When the Tokyo Olympics begin, all eyes will be trained on India’s shooting contingent which has emerged as the strongest gold medal hope for the country.
This optimism is based on the consistent performances of the Indian contingent in the last few years, encompassing this Olympic cycle which started with the 2018 World Championships. India has not only won multiple medals at various international shooting competitions in the last four years, but the top shooters have consistently reached finals in the main rifle and pistol events.
It is worth noting that there was similar hope ahead of the last Olympics in Rio, where India couldn’t win a single shooting medal. But, the hope is that the squad in Tokyo is set to break that hoodoo at least.
In Tokyo, India will field a record 15-member squad across rifle, pistol and shotgun categories. This is the largest Indian shooting contingent at the Olympic Games, and probably the most prolific too with multiple current and former world No 1 and World Cup gold medallists. They are a largely young side, with all but four on their first Olympics campaign.
Shooting will be one of the earliest medal events, kicking off with the women’s 10m air rifle.
India's Olympic shooting squad
|10m Air Rifle Men||Deepak Kumar||33|
|10m Air Rifle Men||Divyansh Singh Panwar||18|
|50m Rifle 3 Positions Men||Sanjeev Rajput||40|
|50m Rifle 3 Positions Men||Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar||20|
|10m Air Pistol Men||Saurabh Chaudhary||19|
|10m Air Pistol Men||Abhishek Verma||31|
|Skeet Men||Angad Vir Singh Bajwa||25|
|Skeet Men||Mairaj Ahmad Khan||45|
|10m Air Rifle Women||Apurvi Chandela||28|
|10m Air Rifle Women||Elavenil Valarivan||21|
|50m Rifle 3 Positions Women||Anjum Moudgil||27|
|50m Rifle 3 Positions Women||Tejaswini Sawant||40|
|10m Air Pistol Women||Manu Bhaker||19|
|10m Air Pistol Women||Yashaswini Singh Deswal||24|
|25m Pistol Women||Manu Bhaker||19|
|25m Pistol Women||Rahi Sarnobat||30|
|10m Air Pistol Mixed Team*||Divyansh Singh Panwar / Elavenil Valarivan|
|10m Air Pistol Mixed Team*||Deepak Kumar / Anjum Moudgil|
|10m Air Rifle Mixed Team*||Saurabh Chaudhary / Manu Bhaker|
|10m Air Rifle Mixed Team*||Abhishek Verma / Yashaswini Singh Deswal|
The last two times the Indian shooting contingent took part in a multi-discipline game – the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games – they came back with the record haul of individual medals. And since then they have been growing in strength, thereby raising expectations. In 2019, they topped the medal tally at all the four rifle/pistol World Cups with 30 medals (21 gold) including the World Cup Finals.
Expectations, of course, will have to be tempered because when the pandemic wiped out the shooting calendar in 2020, it had a far-reaching impact on shooters around the world and Indians were no exceptions. A long lockdown in India meant on-site practise was limited, several shooters didn’t have a chance to train with their coaches which saw chinks creep in, some of them were infected with Covid-19 and overall the momentum was lost.
Delhi Shooting World Cup takeaways: Mixed hopes, new names and challenge for India ahead of Olympics
When international competition returned in 2021, with the World Cup in Delhi, the effects of this layoff showed. The team has since trained in a far more streamlined manner, flying to Croatia in May to train together without restrictions. The two-month long competition-cum-training tour saw them earn mixed results in the two events they played, but it has also helped identify the issues that need focus on as a team. Whether this is part of the process of peaking at the Olympics or just a consequence of time spent away, remains to be seen.
Strengths and weakness
The big strength for India can also be a potential weakness – the abundance of youth.
The 15-member shooting squad is headlined by youngsters, who stunned the shooting world with their exploits as teenagers, and balanced with veterans who have had to stage late-career comebacks to make the cut. The average age of the shooting squad is 28, with three teenagers and three players in their 40s.
Of the 15, only Rahi Sarnobat (25m pistol), Apurvi Chandela (10m air rifle), Sanjeev Rajput (50m Rifle 3 Position) and Mairaj Ahmad Khan have been to the Olympics before. On the flip side, the youngsters are all among the top ranked in the world or have won the Olympic quota with their terrific performance at the World Cups.
Indeed, the teens in the mix are Asian Games champion Saurabh Chaudhary (10m air pistol), the prodigious Manu Bhaker, who will shoot in three events, former world No 1 and currently second ranked Divyansh Singh Panwar (10m air rifle). The 21-year-old top-ranked Elavenil Valarivan (10m air rifle) is the only player who didn’t win an Olympic quota in her event, but was chosen for her solid numbers during the selection period.
From the Archives – Young Guns: How India’s investment in a junior shooting system post 2012 is striking gold
They certainly have the experience of being in finals and on the podium, but have not faced pressure like this before. Most of the youth – bar Chaudhary and Bhaker at the Asian Games – will take some getting used to the pressure of Olympics. The World Cup doesn’t always have the top athletes participating and heavyweights like Korea and China, and later Germany, missed the latter World Cups. How they adapt to such expectations and environment, with minimal international competition in the lead up, will be crucial.
Having said this, an underrated advantage for India will be the experience of the veterans. Sarnobat has built up sensational form in the 25m pistol, with a silver and gold at the two World Cups this year. The 30-year-old has gone through the full gamut, from the 2012 London Olympics to 2018 Asian Games, and has emerged as one of the most resilient and consistent shooters. Apurvi Chandela was the overwhelming favourite in the 10m air pistol before a glitch with her equipment saw her scores fall alarmingly. But knowing her credentials and experience, she cannot be counted out.
As for early predictions, pistol shooting prodigy Chaudhary and veteran Sarnobat will be the best best for individual Olympic medals.
From the Archives –
Unfazed by pressure or big names, Saurabh Chaudhary’s gold on senior debut is just the beginning
Rise, dip, rise again: Rahi Sarnobat’s nail-biting Asiad final is a metaphor for her shooting career
The biggest opportunity for India is the introduction of the mixed team event at the Olympics.. With a male and female shooter teaming up, the new discipline is a speedy, made-for-spectators format. Brought in to replace the three men’s only events in a bid to promote gender equality at the Games, it is fast becoming India’s domain. A NOC can field two pairs each in the 10m air rifle and pistol events and all of them are capable of podium finishes.
The Indian duo of Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker are the downright favourites for a medal, having won five gold and one silver medal in their six World Cup mixed event finals so far. The two teenagers, who have been the stars in their respective disciplines since the time they were 16, form one of the most unique mixed doubles pairs with their contrasting styles. Abhishek Verma and Yashaswini Singh Deswal, the world No 1 in their respective pistol categories, are the second pair and equally capable of making a deep run.
The rifle pairs were originally selected to be Divyansh Singh Panwar and Elavenil Valarivan, Deepak Kumar and Anjum Moudgil, but reports suggest that there may be a late change to Chandela and Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar, based on their form at the Osijek World Cup.
From the Archives –Chalk and cheese: How Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker clinched team gold at ISSF World Cup
The main threat for India remains the lack of matches to build form and the inexperience this creates. The biggest concern is the drop in form of top medal contenders, despite the pistol shooters having a relatively good outing.
At the season-opening World Cup in Delhi - the first International competition for Indian shooters in over a year - the results were a mixed bag.
The 10m air rifle shooters saw a troubling dip in form and there were issues with their equipment for more than one shooter. The women’s 10m air rifle, once seen as the toughest category in India with four players vying for the top two sports with extremely high scores, had no medals. Anjum Moudgil was the only Indian shooter to qualify for the final, and she is not even in the fray at Tokyo, her spot being given to Elavenil.
From the Archives –How, when and why women’s 10m air rifle became the most competitive shooting discipline in India
While India still topped the table in Delhi and won multiple medals at the last international competition before the Olympics – the ISSF World Cup in Osijek – the performance didn’t feel as dominant as in 2019.
This can be attributed to two things: One, the team won’t be looking to go all out and peak at an event a month before the Olympics, but use it as a chance to fine tune the technicalities. Two, such is the rise in expectations of them that three medals in the Olympic events (all pistol) didn’t seem enough.
Can Rio 2016 be banished?
In the last two decades, shooting has become one of India’s strongest sports at the Olympics with four medals in three editions. The first shooting medal came only at the 2004 Athens Games, when double trap shooter Rajyvardhan Singh Rathore won India’s first individual silver medal. Since then, it has been a mostly upward climb, barring the last edition in Rio.
The first silver medal was followed by the first ever, and so far the only, individual gold medal when Abhinav Bindra won the 10m air rifle at the Beijing Olympics. In 2012, there were two shooting medals – another first – a silver for Vijay Kumar in men’s 25m rapid fire pistol, as well a bronze in men’s 10 meter air rifle for Gagan Narang.
At the upcoming Games, the hope will be once again for multiple medals as well, perhaps even an individual gold medal only the second in Indian history. The hope is not unfounded, but given the nightmare at Rio 2016, can this talented squad deliver under pressure in one of the most unpredictable sporting events at the Games?
Shooting overall schedule at Tokyo 2020 (IST)
|10m air rifle women||July 24, 5 am||July 24, 7.15 am|
|10m air pistol men||July 24, 9.30 am||July 24, 12 noon|
|10m air pistol women||July 25, 5.30 am||July 25, 7.45 am|
|10m air rifle men||July 25, 9.30 am||July 25, 12 noon|
|Skeet men|| Day 1: July 25, 6 am|
Day 2: July 26, 6.30 am
|July 26, 12.20 pm|
|10m air pistol mixed team|| July 27, 5.30 am|
(Stage 1, Stage 2)*
| Bronze: July 27, 7.30 am|
Gold: July 27, 8.05 am
|10m air rifle mixed team|| July 27, 9.45 am|
(Stage 1, Stage 2)*
| Bronze: July 27, 11.45 am|
Gold: July 27, 12.20 pm
|25m pistol women|| Precision: July 29: 5.30 am|
Rapid: July 30: 5.30 am
|July 30, 11 am|
|50m 3-positions women||July 31, 8.00 am||July 31, 12.30 pm|
|50m 3-positions men||August 2, 8.00 am||August 2, 13.20 pm|