A busy year ahead with plenty of Paris 2024 berths up for grabs

13

The Indian shooters’ meteoric rise on the global stage can only be matched by their catastrophic slump at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Such has been the magnitude of their downfall at the Games that one shudders to think about the sports’ future in the new season and, more importantly, in Paris 2024 when expectations will again soar and the shooters will be expected to bring home a bagful of medals.

New season brings new aspirations and one hopes the people who govern the sport in the country would have learnt their lesson from the debacles at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and Tokyo 2020 five years later.

India sent its largest contingent, comprising 15 shooters, to Tokyo and while the eyes firmly trailed the marksmen, their performance left the country stunned. While half-a-dozen medals were expected from the ranges, sadly the team came back empty-handed albeit with an oversized baggage of controversies.

All this after the elite shooters were given the best opportunities to train and compete abroad, and also given a two-month stint in Croatia to perfect their skills ahead of the quadrennial games. Direct flights were arranged to get them to Tokyo and expectations soared when images of them training at the venue in earnest were relayed back from the Japanese capital.

It seemed Indian shooters meant business, what with a motley group that included the young pistol shooters, such as Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker, exuding the confidence of battle-hardened pros. But one after the other, they started succumbing to pressure and controversies started to pile up when only a few days back camaraderie and buoyancy ruled.

The national governing body for the sport soon promised several wide-ranging changes, including a complete overhaul of the coaching structure, but even as days turned to months, no creditable initiative seems to have come forward.

It is in this backdrop that the shooters will begin preparations for a very busy 2022, which is dotted will World Cups, Grands Prix and above all the Asian Games in Hangzhou (China) and the World Championships in Shotgun (Osijek, Croatia) and Rifle/Pistol (Cairo, Egypt).

While action starts immediately in the New Year, the most crucial period will be September-October 2022 when the Asian Games and the World Championships are scheduled.

Indian shooters may have bagged a bucketful of medals at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, but with the continental showpiece happening in China this time around it’s anybody’s guess how tough it would be to win medals there.

The Asian Games will be followed by the two World Championships — Shotgun (September 27-October 10) and rifle/pistol (October 12-25) — which will be the qualification events for Paris 2024. With the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) planning to do away with qualification through the World Cup route, the Indians will have to really up their game to qualify for Paris.

The ISSF recently issued a circular on quota places for Paris, saying, “The holders of four quota places will be determined in each of the individual event included to the Olympic program at the 2022 World Championship Shotgun in Osijek, Croatia, and the 2022 World Championship Rifle/Pistol in Cairo, Egypt. The same number of quota places will be allocated in each individual Olympic event at the 53rd World Championship in 2023, which will be held in the Russian Federation.”

The new qualification norms leave no room for complacency as the Indians will have to rub shoulders with the best in the business to make the Olympic grade, where earlier they had the advantage of competing in World Cups held several times in a year to qualify for the quadrennial showpiece.

Besides, the key weakness one noticed among Indian shooters in Tokyo 2020 was the lack of mental strength for a stage like the Olympics. Somewhere down the line, the sport’s national governing body has not given enough attention to the mental aspect of the game, which many blame for the woeful Tokyo 2020 performance in pressure-cooker situations.

While the Tokyo scars will take time to heal, the lessons learnt are invaluable — those which can herald a new era in Indian shooting. It’s time to take stock quickly and mend the shattered image.

Key events in 2022:

February: World Cup (Shotgun) Morocco; World Cup (Rifle/pistol) Cairo.

March: World Cup (Shotgun) Cyprus; World Cup (Shotgun) Peru.

April: World Cup (Rifle/pistol) Brazil; World Cup (Shotgun) Italy.

May: World Cup (Rifle/pistol/shotgun) Azerbaijan.

July: World Cup (Rifle/pistol/shotgun) Korea.

September: Asian Games, Hangzhou (China); World Championship (Croatia).

October: World Championship (Rifle/pistol) Egypt.

November: Asian Airgun Championship (Korea).

20211227-100202

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here