Ronjan Sodhi, Gagan Narang and Manavjit Singh Sandhu head an 11-member squad
Will the Indian shooters ride on the momentum and finish with a rich haul of medals in London? From silver in Athens to gold in Beijing, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Abhinav Bindra had lifted Indian sports to lofty standards on the Olympic stage.
While Bindra regained the hunger to compete and qualified for his fourth Olympics, after sitting idly on the twin peaks as the world and Olympic champion, Rathore could not get a berth for his third Olympics despite shooting a world record 148 out of 150 in double trap in the Asian clay championship this year.
“I go to the London Olympics with little hope but great desire. I don’t need anything from there but want everything,” was the cryptic response from Bindra the other day.
As usual, Bindra had shut himself in the training ranges in Europe but had not hidden his rich form. He crowned himself the Asian champion in February and sent a strong signal to the Chinese, Zhu Qinan and company.
With accomplished stars such as Ronjan Sodhi, Gagan Narang and Manavjit Singh Sandhu heading an 11-member shooting squad, national coach Prof. Sunny Thomas said that Indian shooting would continue to spearhead Indian sports.
Except for woman trap shooter Shagun Chowdhary, unlucky to miss a medal in the last world championship after leading for the gold by two points in the final, all the other 10 shooters have won world level medals.
“They have talent, ambition and done the hard work. Only providence is required,” said Prof. Thomas during a chat.
Except air pistol shooter Heena Sidhu, none of the Indian shooters made the final of a World Cup this season, but Prof. Thomas insisted that the focus was to peak in the Olympics.
“This year, the World Cups reveal nothing,” said Ronjan Sodhi, as he admitted that the aim was in making the Olympic squad in the first place.
He shot 142 in the World Cup in Lonato, Italy, and said that it could have been 144 on a good day. “If you are shooting 140 plus, you have nothing to worry about,” said Sodhi, the Asian Games gold medallist and twice World Cup finals champion, happy with his overall form.
Rathore said that it was purely the frame of mind of Sodhi and Sandhu that would determine where they finished, as there was no question about their ability to win on the big stage.
“Skill is a slave of your mind,” Rathore said.
Anjali Bhagwat, the first Indian shooter to make the Olympic final in Sydney, and a trifle late in finding her form in air rifle to shoot 399 out of 400, on her return to the sport after child birth, expressed her confidence that between Bindra, Narang and Sanjeev Rajput, the rifle shooters would deliver a medal.
Appreciating each one’s unique style of approach to the Games, Anjali wanted Narang to take it easy rather than thinking that it was his turn to deliver in his third Olympics, after having missed the final dramatically the last time.
“On their day, all of them can beat any field. Abhinav has proved it already. They are very talented, sincere and perfect with their technique,” said Anjali, suggesting that only their varying degrees of self belief made the difference.
The four pistol shooters may not be able to match the deeds of the shotgun and rifle shooters, but Vijay Kumar could be a dark horse. “Annu Raj, Rahi Sarnobat and Heena have all shot high scores to win World Cup medals. It depends on how well they channelise their thoughts,” said Samaresh Jung, the only Indian pistol shooter in the Beijing Games.
The hero of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006, Samaresh said that he would not be surprised with a medal from the pistol shooters, despite all of them making their debut in the Games.
“Vijay has a great chance. The six finalists in rapid fire pistol will start from scratch. If his luck kicks in, he can really do something,” said Samaresh.
The question is whether the shooters have utilised the time and resources to give themselves the chance to be at their best in the London Games. Only time will tell.