Gunning For Glory And Gold
In 2008 when Chinese Prime Minister met Dr Manmohan Singh, he presented his Indian counterpart a framed photo of shooter Abhinav Bindra with the Beijing Olympic gold medal. The Chinese made a telling point. They conveyed to Delhi that India may be trying to compete with them on the World’s economic and commercial turf but they are far behind Beijing on sporting turf.
Participation of the shooters in the Olympic Games was open until 1984. From the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, as per the agreement with the International Olympic Committee, the UIT (now ISSF) put a restriction on the number of shooters per event and all the shooters were required to earn ‘Quota Place’ through designated competitions such as World Cup, Continental Championships and World Championships.
Those countries whose shooters fail to earn a ‘Quota Place’ are issued ‘Wild Cards’ by the ISSF. The first ‘Quota Place’ for India was earned by Mansher Singh in Trap event in 1995. He participated in the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. However the fact is that a shooter has broken the jinx and now lot is expected from other shooters especially in Commonwealth and Asian Games.
Since Independence India has taken part in 16 Olympic Games and Bindra became the marksman to win an individual gold medal winner for the country. China started participating in 1984 and now has crossed 100-gold mark in the Games. Needless to say that shooting which once was traditional sport of royalty has come a long way. And with Indian shooters excelling on the world stage, the sport has become popular amongst the middle-class youngsters.
The sports has also become a source of employment as many of the talented shooters have been offered jobs by the corporate houses, public sector companies such as the ONGC, Indian Airlines and the Railways. The Army, BSF and CISF are also hiring shooters. Yes, the first medals
in shooting (silver and gold) were won by the royalty for India in the International arena. Dr Karni Singh of Bikaner won the first ever shooting medal in the World Championship, a silver at Cairo in 1962. He again won a silver in the 1974 Tehran Asian Games. While Raja Randhir Singh of Patiala won the first gold for the country in the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games.
Apart from Bindra, India’s only individual silver in the Olympics has also been by another shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who achieved this feat in 2004 Athens Games. Bindra and Rathore may have won the medals in Olympics, but there has been several shooters who have set up equalled World records, this making India a force to reckon with in this sport. There has been others who made it to the finals of the shooting competition of the Olympics Games, which itself is a big achievement.
In 2000 Sydney Olympic, Anjali Bhagwat finished creditable 8th in Women’s Air Rifle. Anjali also won a gold medal in World Cup in Atlanta, 2003. She also had the distinction of becoming Champion of Champions in 2003 at Milan. At Athens in 2004, besides Rathore’s Silver, two other shooters excelled Suma Shirur came 8th in Women’s Air Rifle, while Abhinav Bindra was placed 7th.
Last month Tejaswini Sawant topped the field in the women 50m prone rifle competition in the World Championship at Munich. The rifle shooter from Maharashtra, shot 597/600, to win title and also equal the world record. In 1994, Jaspal Rana (Standard Pistol Junior Men) shot 569/600 to equal the World record in Milan, Italy 12 years later in 2006, Rana shot 590/600 (Centre Fire Pistol) to equal another World record in 15th Asian Games, Doha. Two years later in 2008 it was the turn of Ronjon Sodhi to equal world record in Double Trap with a score of 145/150 and then with an aggregate of 194/200 in ISSF World Cup Belgrade.
Gagan Narang set up a World record in Air Rifle with a score of 703.5 in ISSF World Cup at Bangkok. Several Indians have also been ranked world number one in their respective events and this is no mean achievement. In 2002, Anjali Bhagwat weas ranked number one Air Rifle, in 2004 RVS Rathore achieved this distinction in Double Trap, while in 2006 Gagan Narang (Air Rifle) and Manavjit Singh Sandhu were on the top of the World’s leader board.
India has won 102 gold medals in the Commonwealth Games so far and out of which 38 have been claimed by the shooters and interestingly the marksmen and women bagged these medals in last five games. In 2002 at Manchester, India finished fourth on the leader board with a tally of 68 medals out of which 30 were gold and here shooters contribution were 14. At Melbourne in 2006, India again finished fourth with 50 medals of which 22 were gold and this time shooters chipped in with more than fifty per cent of the total tally—27 medals (16 gold, seven silver and four bronze).
In the Commonwealth Shooting Championship held here in February, India dominated the show winning stunning 49 medals—23 gold, 17 silver and nine bronze. England finished a distant second with 31 medals and badges, while Wales ended third on the table after winning 13 medals and badges. Promising Gurpreet Singh stunned Samaresh Jung to clinch the 25m standard pistol gold. Indians made a clean sweep in this event with Vijay Kumar grabbing the bronze medal after shooting 564.
Thus, this time when the shooting competition will be held in the Commonwealth Games at Karni Singh range here from October 6 to 13, the expectations from the Marksmen and women will be very high. Indian shooters will however face tough challenge from Australia, England, Canada and New Zealand as they battle it out for 36 gold medal at stake.
WHY RATHORE REFUSED TO ATTEND THE TRIALS
Winner of the first ever Individual Olympic silver medal Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has fallen foul with the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI). Rathore, bagged a Olympic silver in Doubler Trap event at 2004. Athens Games has been dropped from Indian squad for the Commonwealth and Asian Games. Rathore missed the last day of trials here and was disqualified for selection. “Since he did not turn up at the trials, he stands disqualified for selection. He has not spoken to us why he missed it. I also don’t know why he did not come. His scores since February were not good and it was important for him to do well at trials and be eligible for selection,”was national coach Sunny Thomas’s explanation. The NRAI had made it clear that only those shooters will be considered for selection who will appear in trials. Rathore is not in form,he has not done anything worth noticing this season so far. He bunked the trials, hence he was not selected. So what is the big deal, remarked a senior NRAI official.
However, Rathore had his own point-of-view regarding the selection trials (and you can not ignore that) and here he explains why he did not attend them:-
“I think, as sportsmen, we all go through the adversities created by our sports officials sometime or the other. Basically—our previous selection policy was—selection trials are held for competitions in the forthcoming 2 months calender (and if someone has won a medal in the immediate past or had an exceptional performance then he is excused form trials, if he so desires with permission of Federation). Hence after taking 2009 off I planned to start training by Jan 2010 and be in form by June for World Shooting Championships (WSC). However, in March this year, we got stumped by the Federation when they announced a new selection policy. The new policy was to follow a system of adding up all scores shot by shooters and averaging them out. The highest aggregate gets selected.
- The policy was implemented in March but scores were retrospectively taken from previous months like February 2010… giving rise to prejudice and bias.
- Scores shot by Indian shooters abroad in different (mostly better) conditions were to be compared to scores shot in humid, hot and windy conditions prevailing in the summer months in India.
- Taken by surprise, since I was not in form in early 2010, I was left with a huge score deficit to catchup in the later selection trials (in Indian conditions).
- Interestingly the same policy was for Rifle and Pistol shooters too but was amended for them but not for Shot Gunners. So we had a situation; one federation but different selection policies. Again, revealing bias.
- The whole atmosphere of Vindictiveness, created by the sports administrators did not leave me or some of the other shooters with a positive frame of mind to overcome the odds stacked up.
- The policy laid down some grace marks for Olympic/WSC medalist but decided that 2004 Olympics being in distant past did not warrant grace marks (as if the experience is limited by 4-year life-cycle of each Olympics).”
Men shooters will be seen in action in of 25m Standard Pistol, 50m Free Pistol, Centre Fire Pistol, and Rapid Fire Pistol, 50m Rifle, 50m Rifle Prone, Air Rifle, Clay Target, Double Trap and Skeet. Markswomen will display their prowess in 25m Pistol, Air Pistol, 50m Rifle, 50m Rifle Prone, Air
Rifle, Clay Target, Double Trap and Skeet. There will be individual as well as team events in all these
categories. “We will definitely improve upon our medal tally this time,” said National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) secretary general Baljit Singh Sethi.
“The Commonwealth Games will provide our shooters excellent opportunity to hone their skills for the Asian Games,” he added. The recent good showing of Tejaswani Sawant and Gagan Narang has further boosted the hopes of Indians. Gagan also ended the controversy regarding his participation in the Games saying he would represent the country. The ace shooter, who won the bronze at the World Championship in Munich and became the first Indian to qualify for the 2012 Olympics was overlooked for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna for the third consecutive time, and that did hurt him and he created a flutter by saying that he was demotivated and didn’t want to take part in the Games.
But for the sake of country he changed his mind. “I will shoot in the Games. I am no longer short of motivation with so many people supporting me. They want me succeed. Doesn’t matter now if I did not get the award. It is a story of the past for me. I shall start training for the Games shortly,” he said. “I feel winning a medal for my county is even bigger than any award. If the government feels I deserve any award in future I will get it but from now on I would never expect it or will even talk about it,” Gagan said.
The Indian challenge will be spearheaded by Bindra and Narang. “Their reputation precedes them. Their world rankings and international records are such that current form hardly matters,” was the view of national coach Sunny Thomas. Though Bindra, however had a rather disappointing outing at World Championships, where he finished poor 25th in the qualifiers. Apart from Bindra and Narang, others like to gun for glory for the country include Samaresh Jung (Ppistol) and Manavjit Sandhu (Trap). Thomas was of the view that this time shooters will also perform better in Asian Games. “Look at our showing in Doha and we will certainly do better than that this time,” he said.
Indian Olympic Association secretary-general Randhir Singh is of the opinion that country’s medal tally will be better this time. Randhir, represented the country in six Olympic Games shooting competitions was of the view that India has some promising shooters. “Our shooters have proved themselves in the World Cup, Asian Championships and Commonwealth Games,” Randhir said. Besides Olympic gold medal winner Abhinav Bindra, India has a world-beaters in double trap, in Rajan Sodhi and Rajyavardhan Rathore. “Manavjit Singh in Trap, Gagan Narang in 10m and 50m are world-class shooters,” Ronjan Sodhi, won a gold medal and established world record ISSF World Cup.
In Asian Clay Shooting Championship (ACSC) at Almaty, Kazakhstan he gave superlative performance by winning an individual gold with an aggregate score of 188/200 (144 + 44) and played a pivotal role in bagging team gold with Vikram Chopra and Vikram Bhatnagar. Earlier, he had secured silver in ISSF World Cup Minsk. Sangram Dahiya also bagged gold in the junior category in Double Trap in this ACSC at Almaty.
In ISSF World Cup Beijing, ace Rapid Fire Pistol Shooter, Vijay Kumar, won silver and Heena Sidhu also won silver in Air Pistol Women in this World Cup. Ayonika Paul won silver in Air Pistol Junior Women in International Junior Competition Suhl 2009. In preparation for the Games, the shooters are being imparted intensive and regular training in India as well as abroad.
“We have shortlisted the probable and they are undergoing intense coaching-cum-training programme” Thomas disclosed adding: “I am hopeful of much better results this time.” Interestingly despite having several World champions in this sports, in the Commonwealth Games, shooting is still in the optional list.
By Harpal Singh Bedi