Shooting is expected to be India’s strong suit at the Games, and a potential source of medals. A total of 15 shooters have qualified for the Olympics, which includes one of the top-ranked athletes in the trade, even though it all boils down to how each of them perform where it matters the most.
With four Olympic medals in the cabinet, Shooting is one of the disciplines India looks forward to in each edition since Rajyavardhan Singh Rathod set the trend in 2004. The shooter claimed India’s first-ever medal in shooting at the mega-event, coming back with a silver in the men’s trap event. Abhinav Bindra bettered the record with a gold medal in the men’s 10m air pistol event four years later, in Beijing.
Meanwhile, Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar’s double delight at the 2012 London Olympics, winning a bronze and silver each in their respective categories, summed up India's best-ever outing at the quadrennial event - medal-wise. However, the Indian shooting contingent returned without a medal from the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Fast-track five years, India is sending its strongest ever contingent at the Games, with most of them potentially a medal prospect in their field of expertise. A total of 15 shooters will be travelling to Tokyo, which includes eight male and seven female athletes - all aiming for a similar goal.
For now, let us have a look at the Indian Shooting Team (Men’s):
Abhishek Verma (10m Air Pistol)
Inspiration from thriller or action movies can often lead to lunatic consequences, but Abhishek Verma has channeled the same to ignite a career in shooting. He was pursuing a law degree back then, with an engineering degree already decorating the shelf. However, when he picked up a gun at a shooting academy in Hisar, it struck him that life has more to offer than a 9 to 5 job or attending clients at a law firm. Thus began an extraordinary journey.
Abhishek’s maiden international assignment was the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. Concurring with the cliché ‘get off to a flying start,’ the shooter landed himself on the podium with a bronze medal in the men’s 10m air pistol event. With a couple of World Cup gold medals under his belt, Abhishek Verma was destined to make an appearance at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. One of the top-ranked shooters in his category, returning from Tokyo with a medal won’t be too surprising.
Saurabh Chaudhary (10m Air Pistol)
Contrary to the above case, Saurabh Chaudhary hit the shooting range at a very young age, thus his tale carries a contrasting narrative. Hailing from a farmer’s family in rural Uttar Pradesh, the shooter initially travelled 30kms each day to attend practice sessions, having taken up the sport at 13. Veteran coach Amit Sheoran discovered the prodigy and started taking care of him. The partnership blossomed into magical moments a few years down the line.
Incidentally, Saurabh’s rise to prominence also surfaced at the 2018 Asian Games, where he became the youngest shooter to claim a gold medal. Days later, the Indian triggered another top-podium finish at the 2018 Youth Olympics. With several accolades beside his name, including top honours at the ISSF World Championships, Saurabh is in the best position to achieve Olympic glory. The 18-year old will also feature in the mixed team event with Manu Bhaker, escalating the success probability drastically.
Deepak Kumar (10m Air Rifle)
Also deputed in the Indian Army (Air Force), Deepak Kumar is yet another living example of how an individual is making the nation proud in two different spheres. Like few others in the contingent, Deepak's resurgence at the top-level was documented only in the past few years, having claimed a bronze medal at the 2017 Commonwealth Championships. He followed it up with a silver at the 2018 Asian Games in his pet 10m air rifle event, compelling the sports fraternity to take notice of him. However, it was no looking back for him since then.
The Delhi-born athlete flattered himself with an enviable birthday gift in 2019 - securing an Olympic quota with a third-place finish at the Asian Shooting Championships. Even though all eyes will be on Divyansh Singh Panwar, it would be foolish for the Indian fans to console themselves that there would be a one-man show in Tokyo. Given the red-hot form Indian shooters have been enjoying, a medal is always around the corner.
Divyansh Singh Panwar (10m Air Rifle)
Born to parents appointed in medical services, Divyansh Singh Panwar’s entry to the shooting range at the age of 16 was a deviation from the norm. Initially, he used elder sister’s weapon at the Jungpura Shooting Range, in Jaipur. However, his soaring addiction to PUBG left his worrisome parents in a fix. In an attempt to put his derailed shooting career on track, his father admitted Divyansh to Dr. Karni Shooting Range, in Delhi, under the stewardship of Deepak Dubey. The master-stroke slowly, but steadily, returned dividends.
The 2018 Junior World Cup in Suhl was a major turn-around in his career, having claimed top honours in the men’s 10m air rifle team and mixed team events. However, a one-year wait was worth it before earning his first recognition in the individual category - a silver medal win at the 2019 ISSF World Cup in Beijing, bettering the hue of the metal at the Beijing edition, later that year. Even if the build-up phase holds the key, the third-place finish at the 2021 World Cup earlier this year is the best indication of what we might expect from the 18-year old in Tokyo.
Sanjeev Rajput (50m Rifle 3 Positions)
Stage fright won’t pose a threat to Sanjeev Rajput when the veteran shooter makes his third appearance at the Olympics. The sailor-tuned shooter has overcome several hurdles to balance his priorities between the ocean and the shooting range, however after parting with his former job in 2014, the focus is entirely on the sport. Probably the disappointment at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games was too much for the Haryana-based athlete to take. To India’s advantage, Sanjeev will be going as India’s most experienced Olympic shooter.
Sanjeev finished at the sixth position at the 2021 ISSF World Cup in the individual event, a result that cannot be deemed as an inspiring one. However, he struck gold in the mixed event, alongside Tejaswini Sawant. Even though the rookies have overshadowed the senior’s in the current Indian shooting circuit, the experience gathered over the years will give him a psychological edge when he fires the gun in Tokyo.
Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar (50m Rifle 3 Positions)
Haining from Madhya Pradesh, Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar has etched his name in the headlines more than any other shooter flying to Tokyo. Why? He is just 18 and boasts of securing a gold medal in potentially the last tournament ahead of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Nevertheless, his first tryst with the shooting dates back to the days when he used to go on hunting with his father, while gaining knowledge about the sports aspect from his cousin Navdeep Singh Rathore. Introduced to formal training in 2015, Aishwary was built for the kill a few years later.
The 2019 ISSF Junior World Cup win in Suhl provided the breakthrough his career required. It was in the same event that he created the junior world record in the 50m rifle 3 positions event. The tone was set for Aishwary’s Olympic qualification - which he achieved during the Asian Shooting Championships, later that year. Ranked no. 2 in the world, the rifle shooter would be eyeing no less than a podium spot cometh the Tokyo Games.
Mairaj Ahmad Khan (Men’s Skeet)
The most experienced shooter in the Indian contingent, Mairaj Ahmad Khan is still going strong at the age of 45. The skeet shooter draws inspiration from a certain Roger Federer, who at the dawn of his glorious career is still giving prime contenders a run for their money. If Mairaj manages to emulate the same, we might expect a miraculous feat in Tokyo, unlike the last edition in Rio, where the Indian failed to qualify for the medal-winning round. Four years ripe, an improved display is one the cards from the first Indian skeet shooter to ever qualify for the Olympics.
Away from the cluster in Croatia, where the pistol and rifle are gearing up for the spectacle, Mairaj has secluded himself in Capua, Italy. The shooting range of his personal coach Ennio Falco - the Atlanta Olympics gold medallist - is an abode for the Indian shooter till he boards the departing flight to Tokyo. Penning down international achievements of his two-decade career would carry no inference, but given his recent form, we ought to keep our hopes high.
Angad Bajwa (Men’s Skeet)
Even though he is just 25, Angad Bajwa has estimated the dynamics of a mega-event like the Olympics - It all comes down to mental strength and how one performs under pressure. For a country that produces shotgun shooters once in a blue moon, Angad’s double delight at the 2015 Asian Shooting Championships was not merely some regulation win. However, creating a world record score of 60/60 at the 2018 Asian Shotgun Championships just proved why he was much more than a one-season wonder.
Riding along with the success, no one batted an eyelid when he booked a berth for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics by virtue of a champion's display at the 2019 Asian Championships, in Doha. A BBA graduate, Angad has brushed aside any prospect of taking over his father’s business in Canada and has settled in India for good. Luckily, for India, the once-in-a-generation shooter is now fully focused on his game. Even though it would be unrealistic to cover him with the tag of ‘medal prospect’, a spirited showing can be assured when the quadrennial event gets underway on July 23.