The ranges are bursting at the seams with young talent and it augurs well for the future of Indian shooting.
With big-ticket events like the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Championship lined up, the established shooters and the emerging ones eye glory.
The sport, though, received a jolt towards the end as organisers of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham looked to remove it from the roster due to logistical issues.
Back home, the exploits of Elavenil Valarivan, Meghana Sajjanar, Mehuli Ghosh, Anish Bhanwala, Shapath Bharadwaj and the likes left the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president Raninder Singh pleased.
The outstanding levels of skill, commitment, motivation and courage displayed by them and others such as Saurabh Chaudhary, Akhil Sheoran, Yashaswini Singh Deswal and Angad Vir Singh Bajwa mean shooting is in safe hands.
The breakthroughs on a regular basis by these stars of tomorrow augur well for a sport that has given the country four Olympic medals – unprecedented in India – since 2004.
The formation of the Abhinav Bindra-led task force to probe the Rio Olympics failure, followed by the implementation of the panel’s recommendations, seems to have paid dividends.
In the senior category, double trap exponent Ankur Mittal has been one of the biggest success stories, winning a silver and gold medal in successive ISSF World Cups.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) went on an overdrive this year in its quest to achieve gender equality in terms of Olympic medals on offer from the 2020 Tokyo Games, and like all sports bodies globally, the International Shooting Sport Federation, too had to rearrange its events.
Popular events such as double trap, prone, 50m pistol are no longer part of the Olympic programme, and the likes of Mittal, Jitu Rai and Gagan Narang are ready to cross the bridge.
After a lull, the women’s 10m air rifle is teeming with talent with Sajjanar, Pooja Ghatkar, Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil all fighting for places in the team. The emergence of 16-year-old Mehuli Ghosh, trained by Olympian Joydeep Karmakar, only add to the discipline’s strength.
In men’s 10m air rifle, improvement shown by Ravi Kumar and Deepak Kumar bode well for India as the duo sought to fill the huge void left by the retirement of Bindra.
Back to his pet event, the seasoned Narang showed he can still be a force to reckon with, and though the London Games bronze-medallist is also into mentoring.
Narang capped the year with a silver at the Nationals, while the likes of Sanjeev Rajput and Satyendra Singh won a silver and a gold each at the Commonwealth Championship in Brisbane.
In the test event for Commonwealth Games, India finished with 20 medals. The country continued to impress in the Asian Airgun Championship in Wako City, Japan, where it finished with 21 medals and four Youth Olympics quota places.
Owing to their medal-winning efforts, Mehuli Ghosh and Manu Bhakar, in women’s 10m air rifle and air pistol, while Tushar Mane and Saurabh Chaudhary, in the men’s event, secured quotas for the 2018 youth Games, to be held in Buenos Aires.
One of the biggest medal prospects to have missed the podium in Rio Olympics, pistol ace Jitu Rai, had a decent year by his lofty standards.
Rai won a bronze at the Asian Airgun meet, besides combining with Heena Sidhu to clinch the mixed air pistol gold medal at the season-opening ISSF World Cup and the World Cup Final in New Delhi. The first one, though, was a test event.
While Rai also won a bronze in the year’s first World Cup, fellow shooter Gurpreet Singh bagged a bronze in his maiden World Cup Final. Young Shahzar Rizvi is another one trying to make a mark at the top level in 10m air pistol.
Among the junior lot in pistol, Haryana’s Anish Bhanwala has made a mark with some impressive performances in recent times, so has Saurabh Chaudhary.
Bhanwala, in fact, had outperformed Olympic silver- medallist Vijay Kumar for the gold medal at the Kumar Surendra Singh Memorial Championship in July.
Double trap shooter Shapath Bharadwaj made remarkable progress in his debut senior year. The 15-year-old Meerut-based marksman could be competing in Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in Jakarta.