Rapid fire pistol specialist Vijay Kumar will start the Indian campaign in air pistol on the opening day of competition at the Royal Artillery Barracks. He will hope to acquit himself reasonably well in an event expected to be dominated by the Koreans and the Chinese who will actually have their hands full with trying to top World Champion Tomoyuki Matsuda.
In fact, Vijay’s main hopes will be from rapid fire pistol; he will only use the air pistol competition to warm up for his favourite event, scheduled for August 3. A two-time silver medallist at the World Cups in rapid fire, he does not have much of a record in air pistol.
The women’s air rifle competition — the event that offers the first medal at the Games — may not feature Indians, but it will be interesting to see whether four-time World Champion Sonja Pfeilschifter of Germany manages to get her first Olympic medal at her fifth appearance at the Games.
China’s Yi Siling and Wu Liuxi will attempt to stop Katerina Emmons of the Czech Republic from keeping her crown.
Coming back to the Indian aspirations, it will be women air pistol shooters, Annu Raj Singh and Heena Sidhu who will attempt to make the final on the second day of competition.
Both have won World Cup medals and, on their day, are capable of shooting the high scores that can put them among the top eight.
Athens Olympics gold medallist Olena Kostevych of Ukraine, ranked No.1 in the world, will be the favourite in women’s air pistol ahead of the reigning Olympic champion Guo Wenjun of China.
India’s big day
But the first big day for Indian shooting at the Games could be July 30, when Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang provide a two-pronged attack in air rifle.
Both, with the experience of five Olympics between them, are capable of walking into the final. Both have different approaches to these Games, and the whole country will be eager to see who gets it right this time.
Nicolo Campriani of Italy and Zhu Qinan of China along with Peter Sidi of Hungary may be on top of the table, but it will not be right to go by the ranking list, or even recent track record, as the Indian lads have the ability to deliver when it matters.
After young Rahi Sarnobat tries her hand in the 25-metre sport pistol event on August 1, the focus will be on Asian Games champion and two-time World Cup final gold medallist, Ronjan Sodhi, the next day.
The double trap specialist has the ability to bring back the memories of Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver medal at Athens, perhaps with a better performance, even.
Ronjan is among the favourites behind Joshua Richmond of the US, and ahead of Vitaly Fokeev of Russia based on his consistent performances in the last Olympic cycle, though Peter Russell Wilson of Great Britain — with a world record 198 out of 200 against his name this season — may be ready to capitalise on the home conditions.
Former World champion Manvjit Singh Sandhu will wind up the shooting competition in the Games, possibly with a strong performance in his third Olympics.
He has the experience and the expertise, not to forget the steely determination that he showed while winning the Asian championship earlier this season by a big margin.
Sanjeev Rajput will also be competing on the last day of shooting, and — having won a World Cup gold — he will try to make his presence felt in his second appearance at the Olympics.
Narang will also be competing in the 3-position competition, apart from the prone event with Joydeep Karmakar.
Narang can thus emerge a big hero if he gets a good start in air rifle.