India’s shooting contingent will get one last shot at winning Olympic quota places for Tokyo 2020 as the 14th Asian Championship competition begins in Doha, Qatar from Tuesday.

A total of 38 Olympic quota places will be up for grabs (second-most at one event after the 2018 World Championship) and India is fielding a 41-member strong squad across the 15 Olympic events, including six entries only for the non-competition Minimum Qualification Score section.

The continental championship is the last chance for Indian shooters to get quota sports for the quadrennial event in Japan next summer. India has so far won nine Tokyo 2020 spots so far, including all four available in air pistol and three out of the maximum four in air rifle, across genders.

Crucially then, the onus will be on the shotgun team to clinch their first quota place for next year’s Olympics.

One thing that will work to India’s advantage is that China has won the maximum possible of two quota in almost every event (total: 25), followed by Korea (total: 12), which gives India a good chance of finishing in quota positions.

Where India stands

Every country can win a maximum of two spots in an event and if a shooter from the same country wins a medal at subsequent events, the country to finish next best wins the quota spot.

Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela had sealed the two available women’s air rifle quotas at last year’s World Championsip while Divyansh Singh Panwar earned one in the 10m air rifle at a World Cup. In 10m air pistol, Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma as well as Manu Bhaker and Yashaswini Deswal have won the men’s and women’s quota places.

What are quota places?

Given the limited number of qualification slots available for shooting sport at Olympic Games and at the Youth Olympic Games, the qualification system for our sport is based on Quota Places.

A Quota Place is a qualification ticket to enter the Games, awarded by the ISSF to those athletes who reach the best results during designated ISSF Olympic Qualification competitions such as ISSF World Championships, ISSF World Cups, Continental Championships or Continental Games.

Quota Places are country-related: the athlete wins a quota place, which is then owned by his/her country. Each country is free to decide how to use the Quota Places won by its athletes. Therefore, the athlete who secures a Quota Place is not automatically qualified for the Games, as the final decision is to be taken by his/her national team. As an example, the Quota Place won by Athlete X could be used by the country of appurtenance to enter Athlete Y in the Games.

Each Olympic cycle, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) assigns a certain number of Quota Places to the ISSF, which then distribute them to nations through designated qualification competitions.

Note: After the qualification period ends (May, 2020) and all member federations/NOCs receive the official List of Quota Places, the ISSF will check each individual Olympic Event World Ranking List (dated 31 May 2020) in the order of the events listed in the distribution table starting with AR60, FR3X40 etc. The highest ranked athlete not yet qualified in any event and provided that the athlete’s NOC does not have a quota place in that specific event, then the athlete will obtain one (1) quota place. 

Veterans Rahi Sarnobat (women’s 25m sports pistol) and Sanjeev Rajput (men’s rifle 3-position) have the other two spots.

Keeping this combination in mind, many top shooters have been fielded in the MQS section. Notably, Rajput is in the MQS section of the men’s 10m air rifle with Panwar. This was done to ensure that in a situation the second quota in the event is not earned, Rajput can be kept for the event for Tokyo. Sarnobat is in the sports pistol MQS section while Mehuli Ghosh, who has given tough fight to Elavenil Valarivan in 10m air rifle, is part of the squad too.

All other selections are as per the published rankings and the NRAI’s policy for winning Olympic quotas, which means that there are several new and unexpected faces in action in Doha.

Yash Vardhan and Kiran Ankush Jadhav will be part of men’s 10m air rifle while Shravan Kumar will join the duo of Abhishek Verma and Saurabh Chaudhary in men’s 10m air pistol. Bhavesh Shekhawat will partner Anish Bhanwala and Adarsh Singh in men’s 25m rapid fire pistol. Neeraj Kaur will also be seen for the first time at an international event in sports pistol with Annu Raj Singh, Chinki Yadav while Sarnobat and Bhaker will be in MQS.

The shotgun team will have its task cut out in Doha though, in a strong Asian field. Former world champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu along with Kynan Chenai, Prithviraj Tondaiman are in the men’s trap while Angad Vir Singh Bajwa, Smit Singh, Mairaj Ahmad Khan are in skeet. The women’s trap team has Kirti Gupta, Rajeshwari Kumari, and Shreyasi Singh with Soumya Gupta while Ganemat Sekhon, Saniya Sheikh, Darshna Rathore will take part in skeet.

There will be Indian shooters in the non-Olympic events like rifle prone, standard pistol, centre fire pistol and free pistol. There will be a strong junior squad in place as well.

“The team is raring to go and confident of a good show. While quotas are high on priority, we should not forget that a good show at the region’s top competition is by itself no mean feat,” said Samaresh Jung, High Performance Coach (Pistol), of the national squad. “The aim is definitely to surpass the number of quotas won at the last Olympics (13) and the more the merrier,”

Day one of competitions has four finals lined up. Indian shooters will be eligible to pick up just one quota place out of the nine on offer on Tuesday. That one will have to be among the three available in the men’s 10m Air Rifle, the day’s very first final.

Youngster Yash Vardhan is the man in form having sizzled in domestic competitions and trials in the run-up, however Deepak Kumar is the most experienced of the three Indians on show and might just be the one to watch out for, specially with his record of making big event finals.

The other matter of Indian interest on the opening day will be how much the women rifle and pistol shooters are able to consolidate their new found dominance in their respective 10m air events over their continental peers.