At the end of 2016 Asian Olympic Shooting Qualifying Tournament in New Delhi on February 3, four Indian shooters made the qualification grade in four events. With that, the Indian shooting contingent for 2016 Rio Games has grown to 9 men and 3 women in various shooting categories. After Kuwait was suspended by the International Olympic Committee, 2015 Asian Shooting Championships was stripped of its status and the New Delhi event assumed far greater importance because 35 quota places for Rio Games were to come out of it. The event was held at Delhi’s Dr Karni Singh Shooting range during January 27 and February 3 with competitions in three separate disciplines of Rifle, Pistol and Shotgun. 538 athletes from 30 Asian nations participated in the event for 35 Olympic quota places. Among the Indian qualifiers after the New Delhi tournament were; Sanjeev Rajput in Men’s 50 m Rifle, Ayonika Paul in Women’s 10 m Air Rifle, Heena Sidhu in Women’s 10 m Air Pistol and Kyanan Chenai in Trap for men. There were near misses for some Indian shooters but they had to take that in their stride. Besides India, Japan grabbed 5 quota places and South Korea 4.
For India, Shooting is in an important event from the viewpoint of winning Olympic medals. In over 100 year history of the Olympics, India have won just 26 medals and 4 out of them have come from shooting, including a Gold Medal by Abhinav Bindra in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Some Indian shooters have become household names in the country. Before the Asian Olympic Shooting Qualifying Tournament in New Delhi, 8 Indian shooters had already qualified for the Rio Games. They are; Jitu Rai in men’s 50m free pistol, Apurvi Chandela in women’s 10m air rifle, Abhinav Bindra in men’s 10m air rifle, Gurpreet Singh in men’s 10m air pistol, PN Prakash in men’s 50m free pistol, Chain Singh in men’s 50m rifle three positions and Miraj Ahmed Khan in men’s Skeet.
With 12 quota places in their bag, India’s Rio Olympic shooting contingent will be all-time high. In the 2012 London Olympics, there were 11 shooters including 4 women. India could only win two medals at London; Vijay Kumar surprised everyone by winning Silver in men’s 25m rapid fire pistol, while Gagan Narang bagged a Bronze in men’s 10m air rifle. India’s performance in other sports has slipped in recent times. Until the sixties, Indian hockey team was regarded as the country’s best medal bet. They won their first gold in 1928 Amsterdam Games and kept that position until Melbourne’s 1956 Games. India lost to Pakistan at 1960 Rome Olympics but regained the gold at 1964 Tokyo Olympics. After these 7 gold medals, India won another hockey Gold in 1980 Moscow Games. Since then, Indian hockey team lost its supreme status and for the last 36 years, not even a Bronze has come from Hockey. Worst, for the Rio Games, India entered after qualifying as winner of the Asian Games. However hockey has brought a total of 11 medals for India in the 120-year old history of Olympic Games.
Shooting, wrestling and boxing have become important sports in recent years, on which India can pin its medal hopes. This is the reason why Indian shooters try their best to obtain as many Olympic quota places as possible. Some promising Indian shooters faced disappointment, when they missed their chances very narrowly at Delhi last week. In men’s double trap, Mohammad Asab topped the qualifiers and Ankit Mittal was second. When they went to the final in a field of 6 shooters, 2 Olympic quota places were available. Asab had a score of 142 in qualification and he had outscored Kuwait’s double Olympic medalist Fehaid Aldeehani. But Asab got unlucky. He missed twice, scored one point less than the Minimum Scoring Points and his Olympic dream vanished in thin air. Nearly the same thing happened to Akhil Sheoran in men’s 10m Air Rifle. Akhil was competing for the first time in a senior event and did very well until the 13th shot. All of a sudden, the pressure got the better of him and he missed his chance. Besides Mohammad Asab and Akhil Sheoran, Omkar Singh also missed his chance in men’s 10m air pistol. Two women shooters; Arti Singh Rao and Saniya Sheikh both missed their chances narrowly in women’s skeet.
The Delhi event was the last chance for Asian shooters to book their berths for 2016 Rio Games. Despite some close misses, Indians did well overall and 12 quota places can be utilized gainfully, when the competition begins on August 6, 2016. As per the organizers, the event will take place at the National Shooting Center at Deodoro in the western part of the Brazilian capital. With national glory at stake, there is little doubt that India’s shooters would leave any effort untried in the events, for which they have qualified.