Indian gunmen to target Paris via Cairo

Indian rifle and pistol shooters begin their quest for the 2024 Olympics in Paris during the World Championships starting Wednesday in Cairo. India sent an unprecedented 15-member squad to the Tokyo Olympics last year, but the gunmen failed to take home a medal for the second consecutive Games. In the dissection that followed, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) made major changes to its selection criteria, including limiting shooters to two World Cups a year.

The idea – to develop a wider competitive pool – is already starting to show results with some youngsters making the cut. India has named a 48-man team for the event which starts with junior competitions.

Also read | Gun shooter Anjum Moudgil is fortunately slowly building up after bronze

The likes of Rhythm Sangwan and Shiva Narwal have emerged as two of the most promising shooters in the post-Tokyo churn, with medals at the Junior World Championships in Lima last year and the Changwon World Cup in July. The teens will be tested in their first senior worlds.

The pistol team also consists of the experienced Manu Bhaker, who will compete in the 25m event. Bhaker, who is steadily regaining her form after an unforgettable Olympics, won five medals at the Junior World Championships in Lima last year, including four golds. Although she failed to medal at the National Games and finished fourth in the 25m, the 20-year-old hopes to end her wait for a Senior Worlds medal.

Also hoping for a grand return to the competitive fold will be Vijay Kumar, winner of the 2012 London Olympics. Kumar took a four-year hiatus after the 2018 World Championships in Changwon to complete his police training, and will be featured in his pet 25-meter rapid-fire pistol event.

A DSP with Himachal Pradesh Police, Kumar sounded hopeful about his chances in the Egyptian capital. “I’m really looking forward to it. But more than scores or medals, I’ll be more focused on the processes. I’m in a very happy space and enjoying shooting all over again,” said the 37-year-old.

“I don’t feel the pressure to be an Olympic medalist. Whatever I have achieved is history and I would like to look to the future. We have a promising squad with some capable youngsters,” Kumar added.

Tokyo Olympic Olympian Anjum Moudgil will lead the Indian challenge in the rifle events. The 28-year-old will compete in the 50m 3P event where she will face compatriots Sift Kaur and Ashi Chouksey. Fellow Olympian Aishwarya Pratap Singh Tomar will lead the men’s competition in the grueling event in the absence of the seasoned Sanjeev Rajput.

Gun coach Joydeep Karmakar predicted a close finish. “I believe a fraction of the points will determine the quota places at 50m 3P. Finalists will be decided between 591-592 points, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the scores go as high as 594-595. A lot will depend though on the conditions of the day and the current form. Anything above 590 is a very good score,” said Karmakar, who finished fourth at the London Olympics.

“There are four quota places available in each event, and I would definitely want two of our shooters to make it to the final. That will ensure that we have a 60-70% chance of securing a Paris berth. And since none country is eligible to get more than one Olympic berth in the same event, I think it will help India’s cause, especially with the superpowers China and Korea in action,” the coach added.

Indian archers were only able to win two quotas from the World Championships in the last Olympic cycle, while seven were won at the World Cups. Asian Championships contributed six Olympic spots. So far, Bhowneesh Mendiratta is the only Indian shooter to achieve a Paris quota; he achieved this feat last month at the Shotgun World Championships in Osijek, Croatia.

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