Troubled shooters
THE WEEK|August 08, 2021
AS THE HIGHLY RATED INDIAN SHOOTERS DREW A BLANK IN THE FIRST WEEK AT TOKYO, TOUGH QUESTIONS ARE BEING ASKED OF THEIR COACHES
NEERU BHATIA

Covid-19 cut people off from each other. For Indian shooters, their performance in the opening days of the Tokyo Olympics put even more distance between themselves as the pistol and rifle shooters failed to live up to their reputation and ranking. The Indian camp had turned quiet, each shooter retreating into a shell. Those with events yet to go had to focus on what lay ahead; the rest were left to mull what went wrong.

Despite the team consistently featuring on podiums in most events over the last five years, that they drew a blank at the Olympics came as a rude shock. The men’s, women’s and mixed event shooters in both 10m air pistol and 10m air rifle got India into just one final—19-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary in 10m air pistol, where he finished seventh. He then combined strongly with Manu Bhaker, as expected, to top the first qualification round in the mixed event with a score of 586 out of 600, showing glimpses of the form that won them four World Cup gold medals. But the duo fell short of the medals rounds in the second stage. At the other events, the Indian shooters fell like ninepins.

Stalwarts Apurvi Chandela (10m air rifle), Elavenil Valarivan (10m air rifle), Abhishek Verma (10m air pistol), Deepak Kumar (10m air rifle), Bhaker (10m air pistol) and Divyansh Singh Panwar (10m air rifle) did not make it past qualification rounds. The teams in the mixed events did not make it to the finals either.

Chaudhary and Bhaker were India’s best hopes, followed by the 10m air rifle and pistol mixed teams. While Chaudhary stood out as the lone star who began his Olympic journey on the right note—he topped the qualification table—Bhaker had a pistol malfunction in her singles event.

As questions of the shooting team’s ability arose, Abhinav Bindra, the 2008 Olympics gold medallist in 10m air rifle, told THE WEEK, “It just goes to show we are an emotional nation. The more the sport gets popular, the more the emotional reaction,” he said. “But yes, there has to be dissection of the performance. We cannot be emotional in that.” On the team’s performance, halfway through the shooting schedule, Bindra said, “I am disappointed as a fan. But in sport, nothing can be scripted. You need to continuously adapt to situations.”

The no-medal show in the first and most crucial days left Raninder Singh, president of the National Rifle Association of India, stunned. “What can I say, they shot well below their standard; succumbed under pressure I guess,” Singh told THE WEEK. “We thought we had mentored them enough and that they were in the Olympic zone. Clearly, they were not.”

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