Rich in Talent, India’s Shooting Squad’s Form Augurs Well for Tokyo Olympics
India's shooting contingent for Tokyo Olympics comprises 15 members, all of whom are in good form.
At the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympics, one of the closely watched teams, from the Indian perspective, will be the shooting squad. Rich in talent with a good mix of experience and youth, India’s largest ever shooting squad is also well known to be prolific.
Only Rahi Sarnobat (25m pistol), Apurvi Chandela (10m air rifle), Sanjeev Rajput (50m Rifle 3 Position) and Mairaj Ahmad Khan have been to the Olympics before while the younger members of the squad have produced some scintillating performances on their way to Tokyo.
At the 2016, Rio Olympics, India’s shooting squad returned home empty handed and the NRAI swung into action after that, building a systematic road map with improved financial assistance. Not only that, the NRAI dug deeper into the physical and mental training aspects of the sport and worked along with former champions, who mentored some very talented young shooters.
The efforts have resulted in the Indian team dominating at World Cups in the last couple of years. And as the Tokyo Olympics roll over, the shooters could be the biggest contributors to the Indian medal haul.
While there is experience in the ranks in terms of World Cups, however the Olympics is a different kettle of fish and get used to the pressure on the day could be a big factor, especially considering the lack of international competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How have our shooters been performing in the lead-up to the Olympic Games?
Saurabh Chaudhary - 10m Air Pistol Individual and 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team
One of the finest shooters in the Indian contingent, a lot is expected from the 19-year-old, who burst onto the scene with Gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games and the Youth Olympics, and never really looked back.
An exceptional talent, Chaudhary has been extremely consistent in the last couple of years, winning five medals in as many World Cups, two of which are Gold in 2019. In 2021, he bagged a Silver in New Delhi and a Bronze in Osijek.
One of the most impressive aspects of Saurabh’s game has been the high scores he tallies through the qualification rounds, which could help counter the inexperience at the big stage. The ace from Meerut has never been part of a World Championship or a senior Olympics, and a good start in the qualifying stages is likely to help handle any nerves.
Among his biggest competitors will be Iran's Javad Fouroughi and China's Wei Pang, three-time Olympic finalist and two-time Olympic medallist. While the former has got the better of the Indian in two World Cups this year, the Pang hasn’t competed internationally recently.
Saurabh was also the only shooter to make it to the Time Magazine’s list of athletes to watch out for at Tokyo alongside the likes of Simone Biles, sprinters Allyson Felix, Noah Lyles and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge, swimmers Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky and NBA star Kevin Durant.
Manu Bhaker - 10m Air Pistol Individual, 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team, and 25m Pistol
Like Saurabh, Manu is 19 and is among those who have led to the explosive emergence of teenagers in India in shooting. She made her mark on the sport in 2018 World Cup held at Guadalajara, Mexico. Bhaker won the gold medal in the Women's 10-meter air pistol, defeating Mexico's Alejandra Zavala, a two-time champion and followed that up with a Gold medal and a Commonwealth Games record in Australia.
At the Youth Olympics too, she was in fine form, becoming the first shooter from India and the first female athlete from India to win Gold. The juggernaut showed no signs of slowing down, despite an instance of her equipment causing problems.
In February 2019 she won Gold mixed team event at the World Cup in Delhi and then a few months later in May, she qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the 10m pistol event via a fourth place finish at the Munich.
She will partner Saurabh in the mixed and both are very capable of winning the individual competitions outright themselves.
The concern for her too will be that she is at her first Olympics and the pressure of the situation could play a role for the champion shooter. It won’t be easy, but she’s got her confidence going with good reason.
Abhishek Verma - 10m Air Pistol Individual and 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team
One of the seniors in the Indian shooting contingent in terms of age, Abhishek too made his mark in 2018 at the Asian Games with a Bronze and has only improved since then.
Verma, who took to the sport as a hobby initially, will pair up with Yashaswini Singh Deswal in the mixed team event, where they are ranked World Number 1.
Since his first World Cup in 2019 in Beijing where he won Gold in the Men's 10 metre air pistol, Verma has bagged 5 more medals, 2 of which are Golds. In 2021, he participated in he won Bronze at the New Delhi World Cup in both his events.
At the most recent competition in Osijek, he finished outside the podium places and will be hoping that it does not affect him too much in Tokyo.
Like many in the squad, Yashaswini too is going to her first Olympics and will be high on confidence having pipped teammate Manu Bhaker to the Gold in the individual event at the New Delhi World Cup earlier in the year. She shot 238.8 to comfortably finish on top of the podium in the eight-women final while Bhaker managed 236.7 to settle for the silver medal. The duo occupy the top two ranks in the world ranking, with Manu at second.
In 2019, Deswal won the gold medal at the 2019 ISSF World Cup in Rio de Janeiro to book a quota spot for the 2020 Summer Olympics. She defeated Olena Kostevych, a former Olympic and world champion, in the final round.
Rahi Sarnobat – 25m Pistol
One of the few with previous Olympic experience, Rahi will look to go one better from her time at the 2012 London Olympics when she finished 19th.
Having gone through all the ups and downs, a determined Rahi is one of India’s medal hopefuls at Tokyo. Rahi won Gold in the 25m Pistol at the 2021 ISSF World Cup in New Delhi and in Osijek in Croatia in the lead up to the Olympics.
The Asian Games Gold Medallist is someone who enjoys pressure situations as she says it helps her focus. In fact, in 2018 in Jakarta, she became the first Indian woman to become an individual Asian Games gold medallist in shooting by winning the 25 metre pistol event with a Games record score of 34. She won the shoot-off against her Thai opponent.
Seasoned and more experienced since London, where she was 19 years old, Rahi, who has won 4 World Cup medals this year itself, is optimistic about an improved showing.
Apurvi Chandela - 10m Air Rifle
One of the favourites in her event last time in Rio, a problem with equipment derailed performance. At her second Games, she will no doubt look to have a better showing and will have the experience of competing at the highest level on her side.
Since that disappointment, she’s won Bronze medals at the 2018 Asian and Commonwealth Games before winning a bagful of medals in 2019, her best year in the sport so far. She won Gold medals at the ISSF World Cups in Munich and New Delhi and even set a world record with a score of 252.9 in New Delhi. These performances lifted her to the World No. 1 rank but she has since dropped to 11.
Her 2021 World Cup though didn’t go as per expectations with Apurvi looking nervous and seemed unwilling to pull the trigger even after the 15-second time limit ran out.
Elavenil Valarivan – 10m Air Rifle
World No 1 shooter Elavenil Valarivan – who didn’t win a quota – is one of India’s medal hopes after she was picked for her fantastic numbers in the selection period. Born in Tamil Nadu, she burst onto the scene with 3 Golds at two different ISSF Junior World Cups in 2018 alongside a junior World Cup Gold in 2019. She also won a Gold at Putian in China in the 2019 World Cup.
She has been in Croatia since May, preparing with teammates and among them is 18-year-old Divyansh Singh Panwar with whom she will participate in the 10m air rifle mixed team event. The duo won a Gold at the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi in 2021. In Croatia, she scored a tally of 630.4 in the European championship in Osijek.
Anjum Moudgil - 50m Rifle 3 Positions
Moudgil was one of the two first Indian shooters in 2018 to earn Tokyo Olympic quotas. She competes in two events – 10m air rifle and 50m 3P, with the latter being her specialist event. She had won the 10m rifle quota at the World Championships in 2018 held in Changwon but will not be taking part in the women’s individual event at Tokyo.
While most 10m rifle shooters had a dip in form in the 2021 New Delhi World Cup, Moudgil qualified for the final and has been named among the reserves for the event. However, in her favoured 50-metres 3P event at the World Cup in New Delhi, she finished 16th in the qualifications with a score of 1162, and missed the spot for the finals. In Croatia, where the squad were participating at the European Championship in Osijek, she finished 3rd in the qualification rounds for the finals.
Her best year has been 2018 when she won a Silver in the 50m Rifle 3 Positions (3P) event at the World Cup in Mexico along with other rifle medals. She will also be part of the mixed rifle event, in which she will partner Deepak Kumar. Moudgil has been in good form in that event, winning a Gold in the 2019 World Cup.
Deepak Kumar – 10m Air Rifle and 10m Air Rifle Mixed
The Air Force officer won Silver in the 10m Air Rifle event at the 2018 Asian Games before taking Bronze with Mehuli Ghosh at the mixed team event in ISSF World Cup in Mexico. He followed that up with a Bronze at the Asian Shooting Championships in the 10m Air Rifle in 2019.
However, Deepak, who secured his Tokyo berth in Doha at the Asian Championship, has not been in the best form recently. He goes to Tokyo, having finished 10th in Croatia in the 10m Air Rifle category.
He will partner Anjum Moudgil in the mixed event.
Divyansh Singh Panwar - 10m Air Rifle and 10m Air Rifle Mixed
From shooting at targets drawn on the wall at home with a plastic gun to Tokyo, Divyansh, who started practice with his sister’s equipment burst onto the scene in 2018 with a couple of record-breaking Golds at the ISSF Junior World Cup in Suhl in the team events. In the mixed event, he partnered Elavenil Valarivan, and will do so again in Tokyo.
Another of India’s bright teenagers in Tokyo, he had secured the quota by winning a silver medal in the ISSF World cup in Beijing. Having finished a disappointing 12th in the individual 10-meter air rifle event of 2019 ISSF World Cup in Delhi he roared back when in China, aged 16.
In March at the World Cup in Delhi, he put in a good showing and returned with Bronze and will be in Tokyo, on the back of some fine progress in his short career so far.
Sanjeev Rajput - 50m Rifle 3 Positions
The 40-year-old has been to two Olympic Games before this and will be hoping to bring all his experience to the fore. In fact he won the quota for Rio, but wasn’t on the plane to Brazil. At the 2021 ISSF World Cup in New Delhi, Sanjeev Rajput finished at the sixth position in the 50m rifle, 3P final after topping the qualification round.
He did however win Gold in the 50m rifle, 3P mixed event alongside Tejaswini Sawant.
The Navy man won Silver in the Asian Games in 2018 and a Gold at the CWG and followed it up with another second placed finish in Rio in the 2019 World Cup. Since the second half of the first decade of the century, the former sailor has bagged medals at all World Cups, CWG, Asian Games and Commonwealth Championships.
Ranked 6th, the seasoned and experienced Rajput is in good form, having topped the charts in the national trials too and will be looking to break the Olympic duck. But is third time the charm?
Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar - 50m Rifle 3 Positions
Exactly half the age as that of his compatriot in the event, Aishwary ended sixth in the men's 50m rifle 3 positions event of the ISSF World Cup in Croatia recently, outdoing his senior teammate. The 20-year-old won a Gold in the New Delhi World Cup earlier this year in the same event. With his gold medal winning performance, Tomar became the youngest Indian to achieve the feat in the 50m 3P event.
Ranked 2nd, he’s got a couple of Asian Championship Bronze medals in 2019 (individual and team), which is where he clinched the quota for Tokyo as well. His big breakthrough came in the same year in ISSF Junior World Cup in Suhl, where he set the junior world record in the 50 metre rifle three positions with a score of 459.3 and won Gold.
He capped off 2019 with the Eklavya Award from the Madhya Pradesh Government and will look to continue the upward movement in his career graph at the Tokyo Games.
Angad Vir Singh Bajwa – Skeet
Angad, unlike the rest of the Indian team, started out in Canada before returning to India to continue with his shooting career. In 2017, he decided to receive training from Vincent Hancock, a two-time Olympics gold medalist. Hancock held the world record of 59/60 in the final round of the Men’s skeet competition. Surpassing him, in 2018, Bajwa became the first to have a perfect score of 60/60 in the final and set a new world record. It was India’s first Gold in the sport which he won in Kuwait, where also bagged the Olympic spot.
He won bronze at the World Cup that happened in Cairo, Egypt, in February this year. A month later, he shot Gold at the New Delhi World Cup in the individual and mixed events.
The 25-year-old, who prefers outdoor shooting, had been based in Italy and training remotely with his foreign coach in Norway, Tore Brovold, while training alongside members of Kuwait and Qatar national teams. He didn’t go to Croatia with the rest of the team, following his own training chart in Italy, Angad has shot a perfect score (60/60) twice and will be hoping for a third at the biggest stage.
His training set-up in the farmhouse at his house helped him continue training through the pandemic as well.
Mairaj Ahmad Khan – Skeet
The senior teammate in the skeet team for India, Mairaj too trained in Italy with Angad. Mairaj, who draws inspiration from the great Roger Federer will be oldest among the Indian contingent at Tokyo Olympics.
The first few years of his career were quite a struggle for Mairaj as he had to wait till 2008 in Singapore for his first medals. Appearing in his second Olympic Games after Rio where he failed to make the final after becoming the first Indian skeet shooter to qualify, Mairaj is going to Tokyo on the back of a World Cup Gold medal in 2021 in New Delhi.
A veteran of more than two decades in the sport, he too skipped the World Cup in Croatia and continued to train in Italy.
His most notable career achievements include Silver at the 2016 ISSF World Cup at Rio, and Gold at the Commonwealth Shooting Championships at Delhi in 2010.
Tejaswini Sawant - 50m Rifle 3 Positions
At 41, Tejaswini is making her first appearance at the Olympics, for which she sealed qualification by finishing fifth in the qualifications at the 14th Asian Championships In 2019 in Doha.
The seasoned shooter topped the MQS (Minimum Qualification Score) round in 50M Rifle Prone at European Championship, Osijek, Croatia on May 27 this year. She shot 622.7 in her maiden MQS outing, moving ahead of three other compatriots and six Iranians.
While she missed out on qualification by a whisker in 2008, she kept winning medals at World Cups and Commonwealth Games. She won Gold in the 50m Rifle 3P in the 2018 CWG, almost a decade after she won the India's first gold in women's event at the World Championship in Munich.
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