As usual, we are expecting quite a lot from the Indian shooters at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics especially in light of the fact that they been performing exceedingly well in the ongoing ISSG World Cup. With a mixed bag of youngsters and veterans, India is likely to field their best contingent ever.
Boxing might have given nine entrants into the 2021 Tokyo Olympics untill date for the Indian contingent, but Shooting is undoubtedly India’s golden duck as we approach the final lap ahead of the Tokyo Games. It’s not that shooting has gone leap and bounds at the mega event, but four medals in the past three editions has given us a lot of hope for the future, especially after the Gold medal win at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, that has set the tone for generations.
Even though nine shooters boarded the flight to Rio de Janeiro more than five years ago, not one returned with a medal although Abhinav Bindra got closest to securing one. That may not be an encouraging sign as far as Indians are concerned, but it certainly doesn’t take away the fact that the nation is eyeing its best-ever display in shooting at the Games.
The current crop of shooters has given the Indian contingent a level of confidence unseen in the near past, with most of them in red-hot form as we approach the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. That being said we cannot ignore the element of stage-fright involved, with the athletes being relatively young but overall we could witness some fireworks, with already 10 shooters making the Tokyo-cut.
For instance, young Saurabh Chaudhary, hailing from a farmer’s family in Kalina village of Uttar Pradesh, sprung into the limelight after claiming a Gold medal in the men’s 10m Air Pistol at the 2018 Asian Games, becoming the youngest Indian shooter to do so. Luckily, his form has escalated since then, with him following it up with wins at the 2019 ISSF World Cups in Munich and New Delhi. The graph is perfectly aimed to reach the peak in Tokyo. So, how can we ignore the 20-year old as a possible medal prospect?
Coming from a more well-off background, Manu Bhaker, a daughter of a chief engineer of a ship, had tried other sports before taking up shooting in a school run by her family. Her journey was very different from Saurabh, but the destination was constant, with Manu’s claim to fame coming in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where she claimed a top-podium finish in the women’s 10m Air Pistol event. The 2019 Asian Shooting Championships win just elevated her confidence.
Even if we take away the individual events out of the equation, the mixed team of Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhury are there to save the day. They have been phenomenal over the past few years, bagging all possible medals along the way. The duo claimed all the four Gold medals on offer in the 2019 ISSF World Cups, held in – New Delhi, Beijing, Munich, and Rio de Janeiro. If you ever wondered if they’ve lost touch following the Covid-19 break, think again? In the ongoing 2021 ISSF World World Cup in New Delhi, the mixed team managed to re-create a similar feat.
Going along the same lines, India has been the best performing nation in the Delhi-based event, having claimed 21 medals so far, with 10 Gold, 6 Silver, and 5 Bronze medals to their name. On the contrary, their nearest competitor – the USA has managed to pick up just 6 overall. Not only that, there have been instances where the Indians have swept away the podium, with Chinki Yadav, Manu Bhaker, and Rahi Sarnobat finishing in the first, second, and third-place respectively in the women’s 25m Air Pistol event.
Young Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar was an out-of-the-box package, with him storming to a top-podium finish in the men’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions event. Divyansh Singh Panwar is now the top-ranked shooter in the 10m Air Rifle event, while Elevenil Valarivan is also a stalwart in the women's event The deemed to be veterans like Anjum Moudgil, Apurvi Chandela and Abhishek Verma have also been performing their tasks to perfection, but the intensity of the rookies have made everyone awestruck.
With still a few medals on offer, the tally is expected to swell even further by Saturday, when the tournament ends. Even if we argue that heavyweights like China and Italy are not part of the meet, the astronomical figures still justify why the Indian shooters are destined to bring back a few medals from Tokyo. With even the skeet shooters pushing their level up, having won the men’s team event along with Ganemat Sekhon’s historic Bronze medal in the women’s individual skeet event, it is a win-win situation.
The recent results have been so overwhelming that Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju has gone on to state that he is expecting something extraordinary from the shooting contingent, with him even revealing that the requirements of shooters would be fulfilled ahead of the mega-event.
"We have huge expectations from shooting in Olympics, they have been doing extremely well for a long time now and it has raised the expectations. The government is also doing everything possible, making that extra effort in fulfilling the requirements and needs,” said Kiren Rijiju, who was present at the Dr. Karni Shooting Range, in New Delhi, the venue of the ongoing event.
But in the end, these are just words with the place of action in Tokyo. We cannot foretell what’s in store for India, with a 115-athlete contingent returning with just two medals from South America in the previous edition. But, given the turn of events in the build-up to the showdown in shooting, the well-wishers are placed in a better position than they’ve been in a very long time.