When Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual Olympic gold medal in 2008, a new chapter began for the sport in the country. In the decade since his historic gold medal at Beijing, the sport of shooting in India has reached new heights with investment, better infrastructure and as well as success to show for it.
India is all set to host the season-opening International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup in New Delhi (Rifle/Pistol) from Saturday – just the third World Cup India is hosting in as many years. The Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range had hosted its first ISSF World Cup in 2017 and was the venue for the World Cup Finals in the same year.
Before we go any further though, here’s a lowdown on how the World Cup series works. Unlike other sports, shooting has multiple World Cups every year, with World Championship being the marquee quadrennial event. Every year there three or four stages of the in Rifle/Pistol events usually between March and August across countries.
The first-ever ISSF World Cup series was held in 1986 in an attempt to bring together the various top-flight international competitions under one banner and homogenise the system for qualification to the Olympic shooting competitions.
From then on, every World Cup in the year before an Olympic Games has quota places for medal winners, adding more weight to the competition. Delhi will also have 14 Tokyo 2020 quota places on offer, after a day of chaos over whether there would be any given the controversy over Pakistan visa denial.
But with that being resolved, the focus back is on shooting as Indian contingent will try to use the home advantage to the fullest and climb the podium.
Before the action unfolds on Saturday, here is a look at how India has historically done in the competition. (Note: Results only for Rifle/Pistol events, including the World Cup final)
In a fact that will astonish many, India won its first ever ISSF World Cup medal in the inaugural year itself as the pioneering Soma Dutta clinched two medals at the Seoul World Cup. The veteran of three Olympic Games won the silver in women’s 50m rifle 3 positions and bronze in 10m air rifle category.
Thereafter, it took India 13 years to win another World up medal – a drought broken by Bindra when he won the 10m air rifle bronze in Munich in 2001, a feat he repeated in 2003.
But before he won his second medal, Anjali Bhagwat had already become one of the first shooting celebrities in India with a stupendous 2002 when she won two silvers in 10m air rifle, and followed that with gold at the season-opening World Cup in 2003.
Bhagwat (nee Vedpathak’s) success played a huge role in popularising the sport in India as many other rifle shooters, especially women, picked up the gun and laid the foundation for a solid Indian team.
India won World Cup medals in 2004 and 2006 with Gagan Narang adding his name to India’s illustrious list of rifle shooters while Sonia Rai became the first Indian pistol shooter to win a World Cup medal. But the year 2007 turned out to be a conspicuous blip in the record, given it was an Olympic qualifying year.
In 2008, came the turning point for Indian shooting and the team continued to win World Cup medals every year with the exception of 2012 – which was incidentally India’s best performance at the Olympics with Vijay Kumar (25m rapid fire silver) and Narang (10m air rifle bronze) winning medals.
While Bindra ended up with these only two World Cup medals in career, the most successful Indian in this format is Jitu Rai – who won nine World Cup medals (three of each hue) from 2014 to 2018. Three of these came from now discontinued pistol events, but at his peak, Rai was winning a medal every year for four years.
In the next two Olympic cycles, Indians were on the podium consistently with four medals each in 2011 and 2015 as well as 2016. At the Rio Olympics, India fielded its largest-ever contingent with 12 shooters, including the shotgun events, although they come back without a medal.
But in the two years since, Indian shooting has seen a new surge with an infusion of young talent and a selection policy that rewards merit and consistency at the national level as well. India won six World Cup medals in 2017, when two of the events were held in Delhi.
At the first World Cup of 2018 in Guadalajara, Mexico, India topped the medal tally for the first time (shotgun medals included), with similarly strong performances in the Commonwealth and Asian Games as well.
At the same time, India has done exceedingly well as ISSF Junior World Cups, with the record-breaking shooters such as Manu Bhaker, Anish Bhanwala, Saurabh Chaudhary and Elavenil Valarivan breaking into the senior team as well.
As the first World Cup of the new Olympic cycle, the Delhi World Cup is already a crucial competition. But India’s rising graph at the ISSF-level also makes it a test for the shooters who can clinch a Tokyo spot early and hope to then retain it.
Already, India has clinched the two maximum slots possible in the women’s 10m air rifle category when Anjum Moudgil and Apuruvi Chandela finished second and fourth at the 2018 World Championship in Changwon, Korea.
With the women’s 10m air rifle competition on Saturday, the quest for quotas will begin on Sunday with three finals for India. And with home advantage on their side, they have a chance to better the tally than ever before.