NEW DELHI: Ask any shooter about their dream; they will inevitably say ‘to shoot in the Olympics’. After Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s historic feat in Athens, the number of Olympic participants from India has shot up. But it is still a distant dream for many. On one hand, there are shooters who have ‘been there and done that’ while on the other, there are fresh faces looking to prove that they are worth the cut.
For all, the moment to prove their mettle has arrived, with the Asian Olympic Qualifiers starting at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting range on Wednesday. The conditions are not favourable, as most concede and the recently-revamped range will throw up challenges.
The pistol category has seen Jitu Rai, first to secure a Rio berth, take the world by storm. Fellow teammate Gurpreet Singh too has started hitting the targets at the right time but Omkar Singh has hit a block. The 2010 CWG gold medallist will be keen on booking a last-minute ticket to Rio. Like Omkar, pistol queen Heena Sidhu too is yet to secure a quota. After a tame start last year, she rediscovered her golden touch in the Asian Airgun Championships held at the same venue. She went on to clinch gold in the Asian Shooting Championship, where the quota was originally supposed to be allotted. India’s foreign coach Pavel Smirnov is cautiously optimistic that the likes of Omkar will rise to the occasion. “It’ll be difficult. We had planned to begin our camps earlier but due to enhancement of the range, we were not able to do so,” the Russian said. “To perform again like we did in Kuwait will be a tall order. If our shooters can do that, I’m sure we can grab more quotas.”
Another shooter Pavel has hopes on is London silver medallist Vijay Kumar. Vijay and Pavel go back a long way. Before Pavel’s appointment as India coach, he had a six-year stint with the Army, where he inspired Vijay to Olympic glory. But Vijay has never been the same after a shoulder surgery.
Meanwhile, the trap category has Manavjit Singh Sandhu. “Scores are not good,” was his first remark post practice. But he is quick to point out that things won’t be easy. The three-time Olympian hopes that his experience will serve him well. “I have been in such situations. I’m relaxed but I know this will be a tough battle.”
At the rifle range, Ayonika Paul, Pooja Ghatkar and Elizabeth Susan Koshy will look to join Apurvi Chandela, the only woman to win a Rio berth so far. “I have made progress since the nationals. I’m happy with the build-up and I’m hoping to bag the quota,” Pooja said.
A tough challenge will be posed by international stars. Iran’s Elaheh Ahmadi will look to shine in the women’s 10m air rifle, while Kazakh shooter Vladimir Issachenko will be favourite in men’s 10m. In the men’s 3P, all eyes will be on Korean Jonghyun Kim, who had won silver in London.