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2021 Tokyo Olympics | Missing out on testing events will be beneficial for Skeet shooters, claims Mairaj Ahmed Khan

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Mairaj Ahmed Khan also featured in the 2016 Rio Olympics

2021 Tokyo Olympics | Missing out on testing events will be beneficial for Skeet shooters, claims Mairaj Ahmed Khan

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sounak mullick

04/07/2021

As many as 15 shooters have qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, in what is going to be the biggest ever Indian contingent in the discipline so far. While 13 of them are either Pistol or Rifle shooters, only two have made a cut in the Skeet events - Mairaj Ahmed Khan and Angad Bajwa.

While the number of people taking up shotgun events have been predominantly low throughout the history of Indian shooting, it has shown a sharp rise in the past decade or so. SportsCafe caught up with Tokyo-bound Skeet shooter Mairaj Ahmed Khan, who shed some light regarding the matter.

“Rifle sport and Pistol sport in comparison to Shotgun sport are very cheap. Shotgun sports are very expensive, you need an arms license for them, unlike Air Rifle. The license-making procedure in India is very complicated and lengthy. Shooting is a very fast-growing sport in our country if you see; the national championship is a very high-level competition nowadays,” said mairaj Ahmed Khan, during an exclusive chat with SportsCafe.

“Thousands of shooters participate in it every year. When I started, there were only 20 Skeet shooters but now there are 200 of them. So, Skeet has also grown in this time period, but since shotgun sports are very expensive it is not possible for middle-class and lower-middle-class families to afford this sport.”

The Uttar Pradesh-based shooter had already booked a berth for the Tokyo Games back in November 2019, when there was six-seven months left for the showdown back then. But, the quadrennial event was eventually postponed owing to the coronavirus pandemic and pushed back by a year. In general, most of the Indian athletes were in a fix, with the lack of practice sessions, but Mairaj remained optimistic during the testing time while improving on other skills kept him engaged for the most part of it.

“I’ve taken it (lockdown) in a very positive way. I’ve got the opportunity to spend some quality time with my family, which was not the case for the past 20 years. But, I got more time to train. Because I won the quota back in November 2019, which was just six-seven months away from the Games (as scheduled then). But, now I had almost one-and-a-half years to prepare due to the postponement, which is good,”  explained the 24th ranked Skeet shooter in the world. 

“I think I’m in a better place now and I’m working on aspects, like analyze new things, try new stock, choke, or ammunition if you’ve had limited time, cause you don’t want to waste time. But, with the long period in hand, I’ve tried so many things, which is working, which is not working - so you’ve got time to play around.”

“In the meantime, I’ve also worked on my physical conditioning and also some dry training during this pandemic. Hopefully, it will come to work in the upcoming Olympic Games. But, the Sports Authority of India started our training in July. So, we did not miss a lot of months, we just missed out on action during April, May, and June – three months, which is not a big-time gap. It was a good recovery break from the entire busy schedule in 2019.”

The entire shooting contingent for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics © Twitter

Mairaj was a part of the 2016 Rio Olympics and has been around the Indian shooting circuit for a long time. While the abnormality of staging the mega-event in front of empty stands have irked many, the nature of shooting apparently gives players an edge in a calm environment. With a large contingent taking the flight to Tokyo, the probability of them landing a medal is high if the above-mentioned fact is taken into account.

“We do not find any difficulty playing in front of epmpty stands. We are so focused on our target, we do not even realise who is watching or who is not watching. So, our focus is always on the target. Maybe it will be better for us, maybe we’ll do better. Because there will be no distractions or noise when there are people moving and talking. So, it will be a quiet and calm competition, but you have to break the target in the end, whether there are spectators or not,” claimed the 2016 World Championships Silver medallist.

With International travel not yet normalized, there are slim chances of the shooters travelling to Tokyo for the test events even though the Sports Authority of India have installed ranges with laser technology for Rifle and Pistol shooters - like the ones that will be used at the 2021 Tokyo Games. Even though the same is not possible for shotgun events, it might have a psychological advantage on the players when the medal events take place.

“But the weather in April (time for the testing event in Tokyo) will be much different from July, when the Olympics actually get underway. In Rio, I won the Silver medal in the World Cup, with the same test event held in April or March. But, when I went to Brazil in August for the Olympics, the weather was totally different. It was much cooler in Rio, in August than in comparison to April, when it was very very hot and the sun was so bright.”

“So, if we miss the test events, it is going to be beneficial for us, because we will go with a more subconscious mind than a conscious mind. When you win a competition, like the one I won in Rio, in the test events, some say that it will give you confidence, others say it will give you overconfidence. But for me, the players will get confidence regarding shooting in the practice range. 

But, that doesn't eliminate the fact that India's medal tally largely depends on the shooters whether the fire is shot from a Rifle, Pistol or Shotgun. Because they've already proved their quality numerous times at the international event, which means that it's high time that they replicate the same at the biggest sporting spectacle.

"You can see all the performances in the tournaments; we were always on the podium. We never finished at the 11th or 12th place and earned Olympic quotas, Indian shooters were always at the top. We’ve always won quotas with the podium finishes. When you are good and in the right direction, it’s the day at the Olympics that matters. We are all capable of winning a medal," 

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