The recently-concluded Shooting World Cup in Delhi was a significant tournament for India.
Not just because they, as hosts, swept the medal tally with a highest-ever total of 30 or because it was the first major Olympic sport tournament in India since the lockdown.
The Delhi ISSF World Cup was crucial because there was finally an international competition for the pistol and rifle shooters, vital in the year of the Olympics.
When the pandemic threw the world into disarray in 2020, shooting was one of most severely affected sports with the entire calendar wiped off in an Olympic year. The effect was felt acutely in the Indian sporting scape where shooting had emerged as one of the top Olympic medal contenders over the last few years.
With no competition for a year and a record 15 quota places earned for Tokyo Olympics, the World Cup was both an opportunity and a challenge for the shooters and selectors. Of course, it is hard to ascertain much by one competition but the Delhi World Cup gave much to ponder. With the pandemic still a challenge and the rest of the calendar in limbo, it could well be the final chance for international matches before the Olympics
Here’s a look at the biggest takeaways from the event:
Where does India stand in Olympic events?
The biggest test was to see how India would fare in the 2020 Olympic events. While it was a record haul for India with particular dominance in team events, looking at only the medal table will be one-dimensional.
Admittedly, the absence of top shooters from countries such as China and Germany adds somewhat of an asterisk. At the same time, this was the first ISSF competition for rifle and pistol shooters since November 2019, which should be a factor too.
A glance at India’s performance in just the Olympic disciplines throws up mixed results.
India in Olympic events at 2021 Delhi WC
|Olympic event||India's medals||Quota places|
|Men's 10 m air rifle||Bronze - Divyansh Singh Panwar||2|
|Men's 50 m rifle 3 positions||Gold - Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar||2|
|Women's 10 m air rifle||None||2|
|Women's 50 m rifle 3 positions||None||1|
|Mixed 10 m air rifle team|| Gold - Divyansh Singh Panwar and Elavenil Valarivan |
|Men's 10 m air pistol|| Silver - Saurabh Chaudhary|
Bronze - Abhishek Verma
|Men's 25 m rapid fire pistol||Silver - Vijayveer Sidhu||None so far|
|Women's 10 m air pistol|| Gold - Yashaswini Singh Deswal|
Silver - Manu Bhaker
|Women's 25 m pistol|| Gold - Chinki Yadav |
Silver - Rahi Sarnobat
Bronze - Manu Bhaker
|Mixed 10 m air pistol team|| Gold - Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker |
Bronze - Abhishek Verma and Yashaswini Singh Deswal
|Men's trap||None||None so far|
|Mixed trap team||None so far|
The most glaring result was the lack of medals in women’s 10m air rifle. India drew a blank in what has long been identified as the most competitive discipline and the one most likely to deliver an Olympic medal too.
India has dominated the discipline lately and youngster Elavenil Valarivan is ranked No 1 in the world. In fact, the first two Tokyo quota places for India came when Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela were in the top four at the ISSF World Championship in 2018.
But in Delhi, Moudgil was the only Indian shooter to qualify for the final, finishing fifth. Chandela, who enjoyed a successful 2019, was a shadow of her old self and struggled in the team event as the senior-most as well. Elavenil won gold in the mixed team but that is small comfort for the expectation that was there from this particular event.
Perhaps it’s just the effect of the layoff or perhaps it’s the selection pressure given there are just two Olympic spots available, but it wasn’t the best start to one of India’s brightest medal hopes.
On the brighter side, the consistency in women’s pistol – both 10m and 25m – shone through. India grabbed five of the six individual medals on offer and struck gold in all team events. Quota winners Manu Bhaker, Yashaswini Singh Deswal, Rahi Sarnobat and Chinki Yadav have all made strong cases for selection, with Bhaker being a winner across disciplines.
Of course, it should be noted that India missed out on two ranking-based quota places in men’s 25 rapid fire pistol and trap. The pistol final was crucial as gold would have guaranteed a 16th quota place but newcomer Vijayveer Sidhu ended with a silver in the rapid fire shoot-off, while Kynan Chenai finished fourth where gold was needed in trap.
What does it say for Olympic selection?
The expected and unexpected performances in Delhi have intensified the selection dilemma for Olympics. A quota place belongs to the country and not the shooter, therefore the past performances of the winners count for little. This was added pressure for many.
India’s Tokyo team announcement is expected in the next week and most of the squad has written themselves in, such as in men’s 10m air pistol and 50m rifle 3P. But the confusion would have only increased in certain disciplines. The National Rifle Association of India has said that they will name reserves in each category to account for the pandemic. Even then, there are bound to be some hard calls.
Chief among them will be the women’s 10m air rifle where Elavenil, despite not being a quota winner, should be a top choice. Moudgil, who also participates in 50m rifle 3 positions where Tejaswini Sawant has won a quota, seems the more likely choice while Chandela would have been a sure shot until a few months ago, before the current dip. Whichever way this goes, a top player will miss out.
The other tricky decision will be whether Bhaker gets a chance ahead of Yadav in women’s 25m pistol.
While 10m air pistol is Bhaker’s pet discipline and Yadav has won the quota here, there has been talk about the younger Bhaker getting the nod due to her experience. The 19-year-old has done relatively well in sport pistol too and has a consistent track record in qualifying, making regular finals. She has already taken part in the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2018.
Yadav, on the other hand, is in good form and has beaten the other two veterans but has little experience at the senior international level with just four World Cup participation in 2019 before this. Whether Bhaker’s experience will hold against Yadav’s form and gold remains to be seen.
Mixed teams, same hope
On the brighter side, one of the biggest positives from Delhi was India’s dominance in mixed team.
The country’s Olympic hopes shine brighter than ever in the relatively new format. Brought in to replace the three men’s only events in a bid to promote gender equality at the Olympics, it is fast becoming India’s domain thanks to the prolific youngsters.
Of the six mixed team events held in Delhi, India won gold in five of them (barring trap). There were two bronze medals and a silver medal as well. While India dominated the new men’s and women’s team events, it was the mixed gender event in which the shooters really stood out.
As of now, the Olympics have the rifle and pistol mixed team events and India has the current best pair in both. Teenage pistol stars Saurabh Chaudhary and Bhaker have never lost a World Cup final they have played together, claiming their fifth straight gold (Verma and Deswal won bronze). World No 1 in men’s and women’s 10m air rifle, Elavenil and Divyansh Singh Panwar combined for gold as well.
New champions emerge
As has been the case for the past few years, youngsters and debutants shone at the international level for India.
Participating in his first World Cup, Vijayveer Sidhu won silver in men’s 25m rapid fire pistol while Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar beat a field of veterans to strike gold in his first World Cup final in men’s 50m rifle 3 Positions.
Ganemat Sekhon became the first Indian woman to win a senior World Cup medal in women’s skeet, adding to her first junior medal for India in 2018. She added two more medals to that as India excelled in the shotgun team events.
The depth, despite a year of limited resources and with many big names not performing up to the mark, is a terrific prospect for the future of shooting sport in India.