Will India's shooting trials get desired result in Paris? - Hindustan Times
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Will India's shooting trials get desired result in Paris?

ByAvishek Roy
May 23, 2024 11:44 AM IST

Trials reward a burst of form and that has led to seven quota winners not making it to the Paris squad

The shooting selection trials for the Paris Olympics were a fierce battle for each spot. With bonus points for quota winners almost negligible, the field was thrown wide open. The onus was completely on those who won the berths for India to tightly defend their places, even if those came through the toughest route of world championships.

Indian shooter Rudrankksh Patil(PTI)
Indian shooter Rudrankksh Patil(PTI)

As a result, as many as nine out of the 16 quotas in rifle and pistol events have exchanged hands. Rhythm Sangwan and Esha Singh made it to the Paris team (barring an odd call by the selectors) by swapping places in 10m pistol and 25m pistol events. However, seven quota winning shooters were swept aside and it included the three world championships medallists in the current Olympic cycle -- Rudrankksh Patil, Mehuli Ghosh and Akhil Sheoran.

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Rudrankksh, the 2022 world champion and only the second Indian air rifle shooter after Abhinav Bindra to win a world title, was the biggest casualty. Mehuli and Sheoran, who had sealed Olympic quotas in 10m air rifle and rifle 3 position respectively with bronze medals at the world championships nine months ago, have also lost their quotas to other shooters. Four selection trials were held in Delhi and Bhopal and three best scores of the shooters were considered.

Interestingly, three of the four Indian shooters to have medalled at the Olympics -- Rajyavardhan Rathore, Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang -- have done it on the back of medals at the World Championships that preceded the Olympics. It goes to show how a medal at the Worlds -- the biggest stage after the Olympics -- matters. It helped them peak at the Olympics. Those were the days when there were few shooters of such class in India and no selection trials were needed to judge their current form.

The scene is more dynamic now. There is intense competition in every event. The Tokyo Olympics team was picked based on performances in the qualification cycle over a period of 18 months, starting with the 2018 Asian Games. Only scores of select international tournaments were considered and two bonus points added in the final average meant that quota winners were nicely cushioned. There was no jolt. Only one quota winner -- Chinki Yadav-- lost her place to Elavenil.

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The debacle in Tokyo called for a new policy and NRAI, for the first time, introduced the set of selection trials in the Paris cycle.

"After Tokyo, it was felt that the policy did not accurately judge the most current form. We had shooters in the Tokyo team who did well in 2018 and 2019. With such a wide range of shooters to pick from, the trials were a good way to select the team," said a person involved in drafting the new policy.

To make it a level-playing field, the bonus point of quota winners was reduced. One point was given to quota winners in air rifle and air pistol events, and two points in rapid-fire, sports pistol and rifle 3P events. The points were added before calculation of final average.

In men's 10m air rifle, Rudrankksh finished third, behind surprising trials topper Sandeep Singh and Arjun Babuta, who kept his earned quota. He lost out in decimals (Final avg 631.47 pts) to Babuta's 631.80. Sandeep, who has been mostly on the fringes of the team, is enjoying a sudden burst of form, perhaps at the right time. It is only recently that the Army shooter has played in a couple of international tournaments. His scores were eye-popping -- 634.4 pts, 632.6 and 631.6 -- that swept the field, ahead of the three most consistent air rifle shooters in the last two years -- Arjun, Rudrankksh, Divyansh Singh Panwar.

"If you see the scores of Rudrankksh, it wasn't as if he had performed badly (630.5pts, 632 and 630.6). Even with such pressure on quota winners, he has maintained his consistency," says his coach Ajit Patil.

"The policy is such that non-quota holders can play more freely. I think the shooter's consistency, podium finish, and international performances should also be taken into account while selecting the team," he says.

In the highly competitive 10m women's air rifle, both quota winners, Mehuli and Tilottama Sen lost their places. Tokyo Olympian Elavenil came to the fore when it mattered most while Asian Games medallist Ramita Jindal grabbed the second place. In men's rifle 3P, Aishwary Pratap Tomar topped and sealed his place, beside Swapnil Kusale.

The final call to pick the team remains with the NRAI selection committee but it will be difficult to make any changes considering that team has been selected through a policy. Paris will put the new policy to test and India will hope that the Worlds medallists are not missed too much.

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