The Indian shooting contingent will see 15 shooters travelling to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics for the ultimate prize. Most importantly, the upcoming event is likely to see India’s first female Olympic medal winner, with seven athletes set to feature in the discipline, across five events.
Although shooting has given India four medals in as many editions in the past, a female athlete is yet to register her name on the hit-list. But, things could drastically change in the coming month, at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, with as many as seven female athletes set to feature in the mega-event.
Now, let us have a look at the Indian Shooting Team (Women’s)
Manu Bhaker (10m air pistol, 25m pistol, 10m air pistol team)
Manu Bhaker could have easily landed up inside a swimming pool, on a track or even a cricket field. However, when all options swayed away from the forefront, she found herself inside a boxing ring. But, an injury to her eye forced her to take up shooting eventually - it was destiny. Without prior knowledge of the sport, she shot the 7.5 mark, which was enough for her father to dish out a lump sum out of his pocket for equipment expenses. The 2017 Asian Junior Championships silver medal was just the beginning.
Later that year, she claimed nine medals at the national games and also broke the record set by veteran shooter Heena Sidhu. A year later, she created history by becoming the youngest shooter to win a gold medal at the ISSF World Cup. Top podium finishes at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Youth Olympics was more of establishing a strong foothold on the international stage. Slated to feature in three events at the Olympics, Bhaker will head to Tokyo as a major medal prospect.
Yashaswini Singh Deswal (10m air pistol, 10m air pistol team)
It was only months ago at the 2021 ISSF World Cup that everyone expected Manu Bhaker to clinch a gold medal in the women’s 10m air pistol event. However, Delhi’s Yashaswini Deswal’s display meant that the outcomes would be contrasting, as she claimed the top-podium finish and startled quite a few in the build-up to the Olympics. But, that was hardly her first notable win. Deswal secured her berth for the Tokyo Games with a gold champion’s display at the 2019 ISSF World Cup in Tokyo.
Born to an IPS officer father, Deswal started shooting from the age of 15, her first major competitive tournament was the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics. But, her claim to fame appeared at the 2016 ISSF World Cup, where the then-teenager finished with a silver medal each in the individual and team events. Currently training with all the Tokyo-bound pistol and rifle shooters in Croatia, Deswal will lead India’s two-horse race along with Manu Bhaker in the 10m air pistol event in Tokyo. For the record, she is currently the top-ranked shooter in the category.
Rahi Sarnobat (25m pistol)
Dazzled by the magnitude of the occasion, Rahi Sarnobat’s first appearance at the Olympics, back in 2012, ended in the qualification round itself. Recuperating from the debacle, Rahi was struck with fresh assault – an injury which sidelined her for a good one year. However, her resurgence took off in 2015, where she started seeing things from a different perspective. Rahi summoned Munkhbayar Dorjsuren –a two-time Olympic medal winner as her personal coach. One of her competitors at the 2012 London Games, Dorjsuren injected sting in Rahi’s game and shaped her in the best possible way.
Success was around the corner, with the top-finish at the 2018 Commonwealth Games marking the revival of Rahi’s glorious career in the shooting. The Kolhapur-based athlete also claimed a gold medal at the 2019 ISSF World Cup, in Munich, recreating the feat she first achieved in Changwon, six years ago. Already having a taste of the mega-event and tons of experience to complement, the Indian shooter is expected to treat us with a much contrasting display compared to her last appearance at the quadrennial event, nine years ago.
Elavenil Valarivan (10m air rifle, 10m air rifle team)
The prodigy would consider herself very fortunate enough to have been selected for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, without earning it. An Olympic quota is always earned by the country and not the athlete. So, at the time of selection, Elavenil was judged on the basis of her performance in the past couple of years, it hard not to overlook her, even though she did not win the quota. Three gold medals in the 2018 ISSF Junior World Cups, followed by a top position in the 2019 ISSF World Cup was too good an achievement for the 21-year, who is headed to Tokyo as the top-ranked shooter in her category.
As a result, 25m air pistol shooter Chinki Yadav had to be axed from the contingent, which now stands at 15. The Cuddalore-based shooter will also team up with Divyansh Singh Panwar in the mixed 10m air rifle team event. In all probabilities, Elavenil would take the shooting range in Tokyo as favourites in each of the two events, making her such an important member of the shooting contingent. All at the age of 21!
Apurvi Chandela (10m air rifle)
Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal win at the 2008 Beijing Olympics sent ripple effects across the nation. The result was so remarkable that a certain aspiring sports journalist gave up on her ongoing venture and set fresh goals. Apurvi Chandela’s passion for the rifle did not go unnoticed, as her father and uncle pampered the Jaipur-girl with a personalised shooting range in domestic perimeters. The investments proved effective as Apurvi returned with a gold medal from the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Even though she followed up with a bronze medal at the 2015 ISSF World Cup, her first outing at the Olympics, in 2016, will remain a forgettable one as she was eliminated in the early stages of the meet. After a couple of years out of the spotlight, Apruvi made a grand comeback with five World Cup medals in 2019 which included two individual golds. Currently training under the supervision of Rakesh Manpat, the Indian shooter will leave for Tokyo as one of the heavyweights in the women’s 10m air rifle category.
Anjum Moudgil (50m rifle 3 positions, 10m air rifle team)
As strange as it may sound, Anjum Moudgil secured an Olympics berth in the women’s 10m air rifle event, but she would be competing in the 50m rifle 3 positions event. The limit of two shooters per country for an event, coupled with the recent form of Elevenil Valarivan meant she had to be compromised. The 50m air rifle 3 positions is an event that Moudgil is familiar with, having won several medals in the category. In addition to the individual competition, she would be competing in the 10m air rifle mixed team event.
The Chandigarh girl took up shooting while she was studying in high school and has been an integral part of her life as Anjum simultaneously completed graduation, post-graduate studies, followed by masters in sports psychology. Her gold medal win at the 2016 South Asian Games was probably the defining moment of her shooting, a turn from where all her focus was on shooting. The top-ranked Indian shooter in the women’s 50m rifle 3 positions will aim no less than a medal when the mega-event gets underway on July 23.
Tejaswini Sawant (50m rifle 3 positions)
The 39-year old athlete from Kolhapur is the most experienced female shooter to board the Tokyo flight. Tejaswini Sawant’s first shot at the top-level was way back in 2004, during the SAFF Games when two of her compatriots for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics - Elavenil Valarivan and Manu Bhaker were aged five and two respectively! Tejaswini has won at least one individual medal in three editions of the Commonwealth Games, in 2006 (Gold - 10m air rifle), 2010 (Silver - 50m rifle prone) and 2018 (Gold - 50m rifle 3 positions, Silver - 50m rifle prone) and also in three different events.
In spite of her lofty efforts, an Olympic appearance has eluded her, but that’s going to change cometh the 2021 Tokyo Games. The veteran would be competing in the 50m rifle 3 positions - an event that fetched her the ultimate prize at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. After missing out on the 2012 London Games by a whisker and years of hard work, she finally qualified for the spectacle with a commendable display at the 2019 Asian Championships.