Shooter Anjum Moudgil begins life after Tokyo at President's Cup

  • The rifle shooter didn't qualify for the final at the Olympics where India failed to win a shooting medal for the second Games in a row; Moudgil’s coach Deepali Deshpande talks about what went wrong for the nation’s talented bunch.
Indian shooter Anjum Moudgil in action at the AIFF World Cup. (Getty)
Indian shooter Anjum Moudgil in action at the AIFF World Cup. (Getty)
Updated on Nov 02, 2021 10:28 PM IST
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It has been over three months since Anjum Moudgil took aim at the Asaka Shooting Range in Tokyo, and presumably combusted under the pressure of Olympics. With a score of 1167 in her pet 50-metre 3-position event, 13 points below her personal best, Moudgil ended 15th out of 37 competitors. She missed a berth in the final - top eight qualify - by four points, ending her first Olympics empty-handed. 

Moudgil’s no-show went relatively unnoticed amid the furore caused by pistol shooter Manu Bhaker's equipment malfunction, but lack of public scrutiny didn't offer much succour. The 27-year-old took to cycling, long workouts in the gym and skating to take her mind off the Tokyo debacle, but is still struggling to get over the disappointment. “The pain and disappointment of Tokyo will take a while to go. It still gnaws at me,” she said. 

Moudgil, however, will take aim afresh at the President's Cup which begins in Warsaw on Wednesday. An invitation-only event, it features the top 12 shooters in shotgun, rifle and pistol events and is played in individual and mixed team formats. The teams are decided by a draw, which means shooters from different countries could be paired together. 

“I am really looking forward to it. It will be nice to finally participate in a competition after Tokyo,” she said. “I am just focussing in whatever the future holds for me rather than brooding over what could have happened.” 

A major what could have been that was detrimental to her performance at the Games was her being shunted to the 50m 3P event after doing well in the 10m air rifle since 2018 when she secured an Olympic quota with a silver at the world championships in Changwon, South Korea. Moudgil never publicly aired her disappointment then. 

“Moving to 50m for the Olympics could have been avoided, I think. A lot of things could have been different, but I prefer accepting things as they are and taking care of what is in my control. I am happy, and I will be back in 10m too at the nationals,” she added. 

Her coach Deepali Deshpande has introduced some technical tweaks in her game and believes her ward has a real chance to medal in Warsaw. “After the Olympics, we got time to properly look at our training and identify the chinks which are mostly in Anjum’s standing game. Her shooting in kneeling and prone positions is absolutely top-notch, but some areas in her standing game needed to be addressed. 

"Even in Tokyo, although there was no major overhaul needed, I feel a few more days of training and fine-tuning could have helped. I expected her to go deep in the Olympics, but her first three standing shots went bad and that really set her back. However, she gathered herself and shot well afterwards, and I don’t think pressure got to her.” 

Moudgil concurs. “I was prepared to handle the Olympic pressure and I think I handled it pretty well. I wasn't overtly nervous. Unfortunately, my few shots went bad and in a world class field it becomes really tough to claw your way up. I am disappointed with the result, but not with the way I shot at the Olympics.” 

Anjum and Aishwarya Pratap Singh Tomar are the only rifle shooters invited for the President’s Cup. Tomar bounced back from a dismal maiden Olympics at the junior world championships in Lima last month, where he equalled the junior world record score of 1185 in qualification. He followed it up with a junior world record score of 463.4 to win gold. 

Pistol shooters Bhaker and Yashaswini Singh Deswal will compete in the 10m air pistol event, while Bhaker and two-time Olympian Rahi Sarnobat are in the 25m pistol competition. Bhaker responded to her tumultuous Olympics campaign with a five-medal haul - four of them gold - at Lima, and would be eager to continue her fine run.

Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma will be in action in the men’s individual 10m air pistol. 

What went wrong in Tokyo? 

India sent a 15-member shooting contingent - their biggest to an Olympics - but for the second Games in succession drew a blank. The Olympics-bound shooters along with their coaching staff, barring skeet exponents Mairaj Ahmad Khan and Angad Vir Singh Bajwa who trained in Italy, were sent to Croatia for a two-and-a-half-month training camp in the build-up. There the team participated in the European Championships and the ISSF World Cup in Osijek, but no amount of conditioning eventually proved enough. 

The trouble, Deshpande believes, began with a lack of training time. “Look, we had to undergo a seven-day quarantine following which we trained for just three days before going into the European Championships, which was supposed to give us good exposure. Even though it was not a medal event for us, shooters’ individual expectations often serve as competition pressure. But even that kind of pressure was not there as the team found itself on the range after just three days of training. 

“Then the Osijek World Cup became more important than it was supposed to be. Since it was too close to the Olympics, it became a super intense affair for us and we couldn't really try a lot of technical changes. So, everything got mixed up and it was a slippery slope thereafter. The results are there to be seen.” 

“There are many reasons for the failure at the Olympics, but one very strong reason is that for a very long time we have not had pure coaching camps. We have training or preparatory camps in the run-up to a major event, but those camps are not where you can work on something new or address a problem in detail. You can’t upgrade an athlete while preparing for a major event. After 2018, particularly the Olympic-bound shooters didn't have any such camp. All of 2019 they just shot in one competition after another and the problems were never really addressed. Because results were coming, no one paid attention. The problem, in my mind, began there.” 

Indian shooters repeatedly aced the World Cup cycle in the run-up to the Games, but the level of competition, especially in the absence of Chinese or Korean shooters, left a lot to be desired. The coach believes the World Cup success should be consumed with a pinch of salt and the actual assessment of shooters should happen at the world championships, or Asian Games and Olympics - events that happen once in four years. 

“I agree we perhaps read too much into the World Cup results. These events happen four times a year. We really don’t need to participate in every ISSF event; in fact, we should look at these events as part of our training regimen and not essentially train for them. World Cup scores are okay to show the world, but as professionals we shouldn’t get carried away. 

“Another important factor was, of course, Covid-19.  It was a big disrupter. Seven weeks of no training and uncertainty after the Delhi World Cup 2021 was not good. Apurvi Chandela and Deepak Kumar got Covid, and we lost a lot of time.”


    Shantanu Srivastava is an experienced sports journalist who has worked across print and digital media. He covers cricket and Olympic sports.

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Monday, January 17, 2022