NEW DELHI: When rifle shooter Pooja Ghatkar started off with a bang, India could not have hoped for a better launch. Just a few months ago, India had suffered a catastrophic Rio Olympics.
Everyone associated with the sport was searching for answers. So ahead of the ISSF World Cup curtain raiser here, not many were willing to place bets on how many would win medals. Following the dark days, humility had come to the fore with shooters looking to find their feet and restore pride.
Following Pooja’s coup, pistol ace Jitu Rai led the way to boost India’s medal count to five, a good return given the pressure, according to caretaker coach Deepali Deshpande, who looks after the junior rifle team.
“Bearing in mind that this is the first competition ahead of Olympic cycle (Tokyo 2020), it was a very good performance,” Deepali told Express. “And also, there were lots of fresh faces. And there was added pressure of performing in front of the home crowd. They handled it well. The shooters (young and experienced) can definitely build on this result.”
The talent pool in women’s 50m rifle 3P has caught the coach’s eye. “I’m impressed. In the past, we would have just a few shooters in women’s 50m rifle 3P, but now we have six-seven who are strong. There is healthy competition,” the Arjuna awardee said.
Alongside Jitu, comeback man Amanpreet Singh grabbed a silver medal. Junior pistol coach Jaspal Rana is satisfied with the overall outcome but feels the shooters could have done better.
“This result is nothing to be thrilled about. Barring Jitu, everyone else was okay,” Jaspal remarked. “Jitu is following the correct training method with a coach looking after him. Everyone else should have the same. We can do better.”
Ankur Mittal displayed class in men’s double trap to fetch his first medal in the event. Coach Marcello Dradi was not surprised by the outcome. “He could have won the gold. We have a few shooters shaping up really well. Ankur is highly talented and I expected no less.”
The competition also saw a 15-year-old Shapath Bhardwaj rub shoulders with the best in the business. No medals for him but he did show enough promise. “He is 15. At that age he is so good. He is definitely going to improve and do well in the future,” Dradi had said after Shapath finished a respectable 10th in the qualifiers.