With Tokyo 2020 upon us and plenty of attention on shooting for Indian fans, we first took a deep dive at the numbers for 10m air rifle women where we looked at the top contenders in one of the more open events in shooting.
Here we turn our attention to the 10m air pistol men’s event, which in a way is the polar opposite of the women’s rifle event as it has been largely dominated by a few shooters in the current Olympic qualification cycle. It is also the event that, arguably, is India’s best chance to produce an individual Olympic Champion and finally provide Abhinav Bindra with company after spending well over a decade alone at the top.
Times are in IST
|10m air pistol men||July 24, 9.30 am||July 24, 12 noon||Saurabh Chaudhary & Abhishek Verma|
The tabulation at the end of this article shows the performances in the event across seven major ISSF tournaments since the start of the Olympic qualification period. Besides the World Championships in 2018, there were four World Cups in 2019 (all offering Olympic quotas) and two World Cups in 2021 (which provide an indicator of recent form) that have been included in the table, in an attempt to determine the top contenders and medal favourites going into Tokyo. In the interest of uniformity, restricted events like continental championships and the World Cup Final (which is an invitational event) have not been included.
The men’s 10m air pistol event will see one of the smallest fields in Tokyo across all rifle/pistol events, with a total of only 36 shooters representing 29 countries. By contrast, the corresponding women’s 10m pistol event has the largest field comprising of 53 shooters. Almost all the shooters travelling to Tokyo for the men’s pistol event have been included in the table, with the exception of a few who did not shoot a single event, while some shooters who had high scores but will still not be going to Tokyo have been included for comparative purposes.
The Indians in contention
One of the first things that stands out looking at the table is that the medals as well as the finals have been largely controlled by just a few shooters. Leading the way are Indians Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma, who are both the only shooters to have made it to as many as five finals, pocketing a couple of gold medals each and thus actually clean-sweeping the gold medals on offer at the World Cups in 2019.
Saurabh in particular has been astonishing, both in terms of consistency and results. He has competed for medals in five of the seven events considered in the table, and has ended up with a medal in each of those. In addition, he is also the reigning Junior World Champion (thus missing out on the senior 2018 World Championships as he was competing in the junior category), the reigning Youth Olympic Champion and the reigning Asian Games Champion. And that is besides the five gold and one silver he has in his kitty from the pistol mixed team event along with Manu Bhaker.
In the process, Saurabh also created multiple world records in finals, still holding the junior finals world record with a score of 246.3, though his senior finals world record was narrowly usurped by Rio 2016 bronze medallist Kim Song Guk (PRK) with a 246.5 at the 2019 Asian Championships in Doha (Song Guk will not be travelling to Tokyo on account of the North Korean pull-out).
Unsurprisingly, Saurabh also has the highest per-shot finals average of 10.141 and even this average is lowered a bit due to a relatively poor final, by his own lofty standards, at the recent 2021 Osijek World Cup where he ended up with bronze.
Simply put, in the opinion of this writer, Saurabh Chaudhary is India’s biggest discovery in the current Olympic cycle across all sports and if he can keep going the way he has since making his senior debut at the 2018 Asian Games, there are really no limits to what he can achieve. In a very short career, he has already outdone most of India’s shooting greats in terms of World Cup medals and what’s left now is to replicate his performance at the grandest stage of them all in Tokyo, and may be even reclaim his finals world record.
If there is a chink in Saurabh’s armour, it is that his recent finals scores have seen a slight dip. He shot 245.5, 245.0 and 246.3 at the 2018 World Championships (junior category) and the 2019 Delhi and Munich World Cups respectively, all of which resulted in gold. Then, his returns have been 242.1, 243.2 and 240.0 (scores extrapolated to 24-shots wherever required) at the later 2019 Rio World Cup and the 2021 Delhi and Osijek World Cups, leading to a silver and two bronze. Thus, it would be great to see him rediscover his own top standard in Tokyo and once again breach the 245 mark.
Meanwhile, Abhishek Verma has been living a bit in the shadow of Saurabh but himself has incredible performances, including two world cup gold medals and a bronze, along with an additional silver and a bronze in the mixed team event pairing with Yashaswini Deswal. He is one of only eight Tokyo-bound shooters to have a qualification average of 580+ (despite having shot in all seven events whereas everyone else has shot fewer) and one of only five to have shot more than one final with a per-shot average in excess of 10. Abhishek is, however, prone to the odd bad day, such as shooting a 576 and a 577 at the 2019 Delhi and Munich World Cups respectively, amidst 583-585-582-583-581 at the other world events.
All in all though, India would be disappointed if it does not have two Olympic finalists in this event, something which has never been achieved in the history of Indian shooting (came very close in 2008 when Gagan Narang ended up 9th and missed out on joining Bindra in the final by a whisker). And securing two medals in the same event is also definitely not out of the realms of possibility.
Probably the biggest competitor for the Indians is the top ranked shooter in the table below (by average qualification score), Artem Chernousov. The Russian has shot in four out of the seven events under consideration, and has never shot under 583 or missed a final, returning three silver medals and a fourth place. His finals per-shot average of 10.066 is also very impressive, but still does end up 1.8 points below Saurabh over a 24-shot final and just 0.2 points above Abhishek. In fact, Chernousov, Abhishek and Saurabh together account for a total of 11 out of the 21 medals on offer at these world events, making them the clear best shooters in the Tokyo 2020 qualification cycle.
Then there is Jin Jongoh, undoubtedly the most legendary shooter in the entire field, and arguably the greatest of all time. Jin is the only individual four-time Olympic Champion in shooting history, having won the 50m pistol Olympic gold three times in a row at Beijing, London and Rio to go along with the 10m Olympic title in London. This is in addition to silver at Athens 2004 (50m pistol) and Beijing 2008 (10m Pistol) along with a host of World Championship, World Cup and Asian medals. Add to all that, an unbelievable qualification world record of 594 (for comparison, the highest single qualification score in the below table is 589). He is also the reigning World Champion having triumphed in 2018 at Changwon, but hasn’t competed since on the world stage. But he will be making the trip to Tokyo and thus is likely to incite some fear in all his competitors.
Looking at the table below, it is seen that, besides Jin himself, there are actually quite a few Koreans towards the top end with Lee Daemyung, Park Daehun and Han Seungwoo having performed well in the qualification stages but been a bit patchy in the finals. The net result is that, after internal trials, Korea has chosen Kim Mose to accompany Jin to Tokyo ahead of proven performers. Mose has not competed in a single world cup, but holds gold from the 2019 10m Asian Championship in Taoyuan, and might be a wild card in this field.
The Chinese always have a strong presence in every rifle/pistol event and will be led by another legend in Pang Wei, who is the Beijing Olympic Champion and the 2006 World Champion, besides holding a bronze from Rio 2016. Pang also has an incredible qualification average of 584 across four events, making the final all four times and winning two bronzes for his efforts. His per-shot finals average of 9.836, though, does come up a bit short when compared with the other shooters mentioned above. The second Chinese representative will be Zhang Bowen, who is placed 3rd in the below table but that is based on only two scores (one of them in the MQS category) and he hasn’t reached a final. Zhang has been shooting in ISSF events since 2014 but has been more of a 50m pistol shooter, and will be travelling to his first Olympics in Tokyo.
An interesting case study is Javad Foroughi. The Iranian is quite low in the table as before the pandemic, he shot a very poor 569 at the 2018 World Championships and a 576 at the 2019 Delhi World Cup. But, since the resumption of events, he has shot 583 and 584 at the 2021 Delhi and Osijek World Cups, and secured gold in both events. This has also meant that Foroughi has a finals average score very close to Saurabh, having beaten the young prodigy twice in 2021. Foroughi had given an indication of his ability with a 585 at the 2019 Asian Championships itself, but has now loudly announced himself in 2021, going into Tokyo in red hot form.
The other shooters to look out for would be the experienced stalwarts Oleh Omelchuk (UKR) and Damir Mikec (SRB). Both have had solid build-ups to Tokyo, having reached three finals each, and while Omelchuk has failed to medal in the individual event, Mikec has done well in securing two silver medals. The Turks Ismail Keles and Yusuf Dikec are also capable of leaving their mark on Tokyo, as are the surprise medallists at Rio 2016, the Vietnamese Hoang Xuan Vinh (defending Olympic Champion along with a silver in 50m pistol at Rio 2016) and Brazilian Felipe Almeida Wu (reigning Olympic Silver medallist with a historic performance at home) providing perfect examples of the unpredictability of shooting sport.
10m Pistol Mixed Team Event
Most of the top shooters mentioned in the below table will also be competing in the 10m pistol mixed team event. The duo of Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker are the undisputed favourites in this event, having won five golds and a silver over the six events they have competed in. They will be challenged by Russians Artem Chernousov and Vitalina Batsarashkina who pipped Saurabh-Manu to the gold at the recent Osijek World Cup, and also just happen to be the reigning World Champions (with Saurabh not competing in the senior category at the world championships).
Abhishek Verma and Yashaswini Deswal also form a formidable team, coming very close to upstaging Saurabh and Manu at the Rio World Cup, besides a bronze-winning effort at Delhi 2021 and a fourth place in Osijek. Another strong team to watch out for would be the Munich World Cup silver medallist and World Championship bronze medallist Ukrainian duo of Olena Kostevych and Oleh Omelchuk.
The Chinese have been omnipresent, with three silvers and a couple of bronzes won by different shooters across different competitions, and have picked He Zhengyang and Wang Qian as dedicated mixed team shooters for Tokyo along with Pang Wei and Jiang Ranxin to form their two teams.
The Koreans are also expected to be in the mix, even though they have only a solitary bronze to show in terms of mixed team world cups medals, with the likes of Javad Foroughi/Haniyeh Rostamiyan (IRI), Damir Mikec/Zorana Arunovic (SRB) and a German pair consisting of Christian Reitz paired with either Monika Karsch or Carina Wimmer looking to cause some upsets.
(Scroll horizontally or swipe on your screens to view all columns on the table)
10m air pistol performances
|Rank||Name||Country||Going to Tokyo?||AVG SCOREQual||AVG SCOREFinal (24-shot)||AVG PER SHOT Qual||AVG PER SHOTFinal||World C'ships||Del 19||Bei 19||Mun 19||Rio 19||Del 21||Osj 21|
|15||WANG Meng Yi||CHN||NO||579||237.0||9.65||9.875||F|
|28||HOANG Xuan Vinh||VIE||YES||575||-||9.59||-|
|32||GRAU POTRILLE Jorge||CUB||YES||572||-||9.53||-|
|35||WU Felipe Almeida||BRA||YES||570||240.0||9.50||10.000||4th|
|37||ABDEL RAZEK Samy||EGY||YES||568||-||9.47||-|
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