Many may like to believe that India’s success this year came through a process of slow and steady evolution, but the numbers show that in reality, Indian shooters just took a giant 19-kilo wrecking ball and shattered the glass ceiling. The year saw a total of 19 Golds at ISSF events in the Tokyo Olympic disciplines.
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In fact, in rifle/pistol events, India topped the medals tally at each of the 4 World Cups as well as the World Cup Final. And all of this happened in a year when all the World Cups offered Tokyo Olympic quotas, a fact which always results in increasing the competitiveness of the competitions even further.
The highlights of 2019 included Abhishek Verma and Saurabh Chaudhary sweeping the 10m Air Pistol event at the World Cups with 2 Golds each, with Saurabh even making World records in the process. Apurvi Chandela and Elavenil Valarivan combined to win Golds at 4 of the 5 World Cup events, as they, along with Anjum Moudgil, created a unique Indian 1-2-3 on the World Rankings.
Yashaswini Deswal overcame two heart-breaking World Cups in Beijing and Munich to secure the Gold at the Rio World Cup, while Manu Bhaker and Divyansh Panwar both laid their hands on the yellow metal in the World Cup Final.
The rifle mixed team event returned 5 medals, including 3 Golds, shared between the teams of Anjum Moudgil/Divyansh Panwar and Apurvi Chandela/Deepak Kumar, while the team of Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary remained undefeated throughout the year in the pistol mixed team event, sweeping the Gold at all the 4 World Cups. It was thus fitting that at the World Cup Final, where mixed team events were contested between international teams formed by a random draw as opposed to national teams, both Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker still reached the Gold Medal match with their respective partners and competed against each other.
Amidst all the youth, Rahi Sarnobat had a resurgence securing the Munich World Cup Gold as well as the Asian Games Gold, and Sanjeev Rajput showed he still had a lot left in him with a Silver at the Rio World Cup. However, stalwarts like Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai, and Heena Sidhu all eventually lost their places in the national team, and slowly reduced their participation in competitive events despite neither of them officially retiring.
While the rifle and pistol shooters have reached unimaginable heights, the shotgun has unfortunately been a major let down. Indian shotgun shooters have failed to win a single medal at an ISSF event in the Olympic discipline throughout the current Tokyo Olympic cycle. One of the possible reasons for this is that rifle and pistol, especially at the rural level, have far fewer barriers to entry for youngsters.
It is reasonably easier to set up a 10m rifle/pistol range in a village, than it is to set-up a large and secure shotgun range, besides the guns and ammunition also being cheaper. As a result, youngsters have tended to gravitate towards rifle and pistol, as opposed to the shotgun. Further, trap events have also been hit due to the absence of a foreign coach.
In terms of Tokyo, after the Rio debacle, there is a feeling among many fans that Indian shooters often do well in ISSF events only to falter at the big stage that is the Tokyo Olympic. However, looking at the numbers, this is decidedly not true. While Ronjan Sodhi and Jitu Rai are definitely 2 shooters who failed to shine at the Olympic, other shooters have actually never had the results even in ISSF events that would make them the favorites at the Olympic 2020 Games.
Of course, Indian shooting has had many medal contenders, but not really medal favorites. The only other Indian shooters who would have been classified as medal favorites going into a Tokyo Olympic were Bindra, Narang, and Rathore, all of whom have Olympic medals to their name.
However, in 2019, Indian shooting has shown astronomical numbers that are on a completely different plane from ever before. Thus, any comparison of the Tokyo Olympic chances of the current lot with those of the past is an exercise in futility. The growth can also be seen at the domestic level, with the number of shooters appearing for the national championships increasing every year, has now reached into the thousands.
Many of our shooters will go into Tokyo Olympic as strong medal favorites, and the contingent would be highly disappointed to not return with our best ever medal haul, both in terms of number and color. And, hopefully, a successful Tokyo would pave the way for a new decade in which Indian shooting would not just be aiming for 1-2 medals every Olympic, but would actually be looking to be at the top of the shooting medals tally.