Indian shooters nail record 15 berths for Tokyo Olympics

Indian shooters have secured a record 15 quota places for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Their shooters finished with a flourish on what was their last opportunity by winning three spots on Sunday at the Asian Shooting Championships in Doha.

Mairaj Ahmad and Angad Vir Singh won gold and silver in skeet after a shoot-off for the top spot at the Lusail Shooting Complex. Another berth came through talented teenager Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar in the 50m rifle three positions event.

Indian shooters bagged a total of six Olympic quotas at the Asian meet. The first nine came from four ISSF World Cups (rifle/pistol). It bettered the effort for the 2016 Olympics; 12 shooters had qualified for Rio, but none managed a medal.

On Sunday, 19-year-old Aishwary from Khargone, Madhya Pradesh became the second shooter from the state-sponsored MP shooting academy in Bhopal to win an Olympic berth. Chinki Yadav from the academy had clinched a quota in 25m sports pistol.

Aishwary, who followed brother Navdeep Singh Rathore into the sport in 2015, broke through the junior ranks only this year with some top performances at the domestic level. In the gruelling 3 positions event, he has given tough competition to established names like Sanjeev Rajput. Aishwary won gold at the ISSF Junior World Cup in Suhl, Germany with a junior world record score in the finals (459.3).

In the four World Cups, he shot in the MQS (minimum qualification score) section, but was fielded in the main competition at the Asian meet. Aishwary made the most of the opportunity. He shot 1168 in the 120-shot qualification in Doha to make the cut. In the eight-man final, three had already earned quota berths, and the remaining five were fighting for the three slots available. In the 45-shot final, the 19-year old Indian betrayed no nerves as he scored 449.1 to claim bronze. Korean Kim Jonghyun (459.9) and China’s Zhonghao Zhao (459.1) won gold and silver respectively.

“He is talented, hard working and extremely disciplined. Above everything he has a perfect temperament for shooting. You will never find him very excited or gloomy. He is always composed in the range and for a teenager to have these qualities is exceptional,” said former international Deepali Deshpande, the national junior rifle coach, who has shaped the junior development programme since 2012.

During the 3P qualification, the wind picked up and the skies opened up. But Aishwary adapted well to the conditions. “The wind picked up after the sightings in the kneeling position and it was 21kph. Aishwary is a fast shooter but today he showed maturity and took his time,” said rifle shooting coach Suma Shirur.

Shirur is associated with Aishwary at the MP academy where she works as a consultant. She heaped praise on the unstinting support of the Madhya Pradesh government in raising the talented bunch. “They have been giving top-class coaching and free equipment, and also paying for the travel of academy coaches with the kids. That’s the kind of support which is showing results now,” she said.

Among these 15 shooters, four are teenagers who have been shooting world class scores in the last couple of years—Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker, Aishwary and Divyansh Panwar.

“This is what we set out to achieve. The first job was to prepare the shooters for the junior World Cups and then help them raise their performance at senior international competitions. Now we have a young Indian junior who made it to the 3P final, won us a Olympic quota and medal in the Asian Championships. It is phenomenal. Now we have to make sure they are not distracted and stay focused ahead of the Tokyo Olympics,” said Shirur, a former international.

Unlike the quota spree in pistol and rifle, shotgun marksmen had disappointed. However, they joined the party on the final day. Angad and Mairaj weathered some tough rounds of shooting and tensed moments to win the historic one-two and earn the quota spots.

Both have been training under Italy’s 1996 Olympic champion Ennio Falco.

The seasoned Mairaj came close to qualifying for the finals at the 2016 Rio Olympics but missed out after a shoot-off among five shooters in the qualification.

On Sunday too he had to see off an intense shoot-off to qualify for the final. In fact, Mairaj and the 23-year-old Angad had to win an eight-way shoot-off for the three final qualification spots. Mairaj hit 38 birds while Angad claimed the sixth and final spot scoring 25. In the final, Angad won gold beating his compatriot 6-5 in a shoot-off for gold after both were tied at 56 hits.

“I was very positive today. It added to my confidence. We had prepared well for the competition. I stuck to the basics and it was the key to my success,” said Angad, who won gold at the Asian shotgun championships last year.

Source : Hindustan Times

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