High five for Sift: Shooter pockets Olympic quota for India

Shooter finishes fifth in women's 50m rifle 3 positions final in ongoing World C'ships
On Cloud Nine: Shooter Sift Kaur Samra.
On Cloud Nine: Shooter Sift Kaur Samra.

CHENNAI:  Not so long ago, shooter Sift Kaur Samra was caught between the devil and the deep sea. The Punjab shooter, who is a first-year MBBS student in Faridkot, had to choose between a World Cup event in Bhopal and her medical exams. She had to sacrifice her studies for the former. Her choice said it all. Shooting was going to be her priority, at least until the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Her difficult call is now paying off, even though she still has a long road ahead. On Monday, Sift got a step closer to her aforementioned shooting target. The 21-year-old, who is part of the TOPS Scheme and also supported by Olympic Gold Quest, showed she has a great deal to offer to the sport with an Olympic quota-winning effort in the ongoing ISSF World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Sift was in a spot of bother after a certain phase during the qualifications. But she recovered in an emphatic manner to finish fifth in the tricky phase. Before she could fire in the women's 50m rifle 3 positions final, the Olympic quota for India was already ensured as three of the other finalists had bagged a quota before the ongoing world meet.

Apart from that, there were two Chinese shooters in the final; only one quota on offer per nation. In the final, Sift got off to a slow start but once again, showed her ability to fight back under pressure. Eventually, she finished fifth, just a spot behind Olympic champion Nina Christen. The Chinese duo of Zhang Qiongyue and Han Jiayu bossed the final and finished one-two, respectively. Ashi Chouksey and Manini Kaushik, the other Indians in the competition, finished 29th and 40th, respectively.

Given what Sift and her family has been through recently, her father, Pawandeep Singh, is a relieved man. "You do tend to get proud of course. Happiness is there of course. She had a difficult start but she showed fighting qualities to make a good comeback. It's a good experience for her as this was the strongest competition she has faced so far, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Recognising Sift's passion for the sport, Pawandeep had backed her to continue shooting and pursue her dreams. He is mindful that this is just the beginning and is hopeful that the difficult decision will pay off ultimately.  "She had to drop (first-year). It was a very tough decision. If we had told her to opt for MBBS, she might have got disturbed. It was a very hard decision for all of us. Whatever God desires, she'll follow that path. Let's see what fate has in store for her," he said.

She's in the right direction as far as shooting is concerned. Even though she eventually finished fifth, her father, who runs a business in Faridkot, is confident that the medals will come. "Medals will come. The quota was very important. No one had gotten a quota. If no one has won a quota, how will she go."

This is a massive welcome for Sift's family as her brother, a national medallist, had done just the opposite. "For MBBS, he left the sport. He's getting admitted this time. These decisions are really tough. There's no guarantee that the sport can help one set their lives. It's rare."

Apart from her family's support, her coach Deepali Deshpande has also pushed her a great deal. She was confident about Sift and was expecting her to rise and shine. Three (out of six that India have earned so far) of Deepali's wards have now earned an Olympic quota. Deepali is obviously pleased for her ward but has taken notes in order to help elevate Sift's game.

"She shot two matches, elimination and qualification. She was in the second elimination round. I could see some tiredness when she was changing over. We need to work on that. It mostly happens when the participation is full and it does not happen in the majority of competitions. But shooters must have this kind of endurance. She is maturing well and in spite of all that, she did very well in standing. Even prone was very good but it was not tight enough and she was lacking that required precision. However, that will come with experience," she noted.

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The New Indian Express