Shooters set for all-important Olympic trials

Rifle and pistol shooters begin Paris quest with opening two trials in New Delhi; Third & fourth trials to be held in Bhopal next month
Rifle shooters Anjum Moudgil (L) & Sift Kaur Samra (C) will be part of the trials
Rifle shooters Anjum Moudgil (L) & Sift Kaur Samra (C) will be part of the trialsFile picture

CHENNAI: Indian shooters have been spot on in the ongoing Olympic cycle. The talented bunch, especially the rifle and pistol shooters, have navigated numerous competitions, including gruelling national trials, to be in a position of strength. But their job is far from over. The top-five shooters in the two disciplines will be involved in a series — four in total — of Olympic Shooting Trials (OST), with the opening two trials (T1) kicking off on Thursday at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Ranges in New Delhi. The magnitude of these four trials cannot be understated. It's now or never for the 37 shooters who'll be in contention.

There's bound to be some form of pressure as they eye Olympic dreams. All of them have earned their spots and they'll be hoping for one final push. With Indian shooting at its competitive best, the series could potentially produce some record scores along the way. Former national rifle high performance director, Deepali Deshpande, is someone who'll be monitoring the shooters up close.

"I'm really excited. Even before the last Olympics, we had trials but it was not so consequential as there were several factors (international competitions, etc) involved and the shooters would have more or less secured their berths before entering the trials," she said.

"All four rifle events are very competitive and I'm excited to see how the shooters perform. It might not be exciting for the shooters but for us, it's interesting to see how far Indian shooting has come. There's no sure-shots as everyone is equally talented. It can be anybody's day," she added.

Sift Kaur Samra (50m rifle 3 positions), Akhil Sheoran (World No 1 in men's 50m rifle 3 positions), Divyansh Singh Panwar (men's 10m air rifle), Manu Bhaker (pistol), Mehuli Ghosh (women's 10m air rifle), to name a few, are some of the familiar names who would feature during the trials. Palak, who became the 20th shooter to grab a quota recently, has been included to take part in the women's 10m air pistol trials. Manu, meanwhile, will be competing in two trials (air pistol, sports pistol).  

As many as six shooters including Sift and Akhil train under Deepali. The former Asian Games silver medallist is confident that they will step up. "They all look really ready. I have seen their training and all their previous matches too, they all look set. Let's see how they perform on that particular day," Deepali noted.

All the 37 shooters have already ticked the right boxes to come this far. Deepali, who has been coaching at the elite level for many years, said she just tries to help her shooter maintain focus.

"To be very honest, I don't say much to them at this moment. They know what needs to be done. I just observe them and if I see any weak part, then I try to point that out. I try to help them keep their focus.

"According to the selection policy, the top 3 OST scores along with Quota Bonus Point (points earned for winning an Olympic quota) will be considered before picking a team for the Paris Games. The top-two from each discipline will eventually make the cut. With quota on the line, there's bound to be nerves. However, Deepali felt that shooters are used to this environment.

"When we see it from the outside, we have a very different perspective. For shooters, this is like any other domestic trials. These trials carry a lot of weight, but these shooters have been involved in these kinds of situations several times. They have been involved in close battles. So it's not that different."

They cannot come to this level if they do not have this thought process (entering a competition like any other match). For them, it's more about excellence and giving their best. If it's any consequential match, they do the same."

New format

The format will be different during the Paris Games. The qualification and finals will be held across two days. Earlier, the two would be held on the same day. This tweak is not new for Indians. "For national competitions, this (new format) has happened several times. On occasions the number of participants were so huge that the events were held across three days. So, this is not new for Indian shooters." The last two trials (T3 & T4) will be held in Bhopal next month. The likes of Sift will be hoping to get a headstart.

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