Few other sports in India can match the achievements of shooting in 2018. In what turned out to be the most successful year for the Indian shooting contingent yet, India dominated the medal tally at Asian Games and Commonwealth Games; even bagging a couple of Olympic quotas at the year-end World Championships. Prior to 2018, Indian shooting had often been a story of near misses and heartbreaks. However, the performances of Indian shooters in multi-national tournaments like the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games has impressed even the staunchest of critics.
While the performance of senior shooters has been commendable, particularly impressive have been the achievements of the younger crop. India has dominated shooting competitions at the junior level throughout the year; finishing second in the medal tally at the Junior World Cup in Sydney and ending at the top of the table in Suhl. Some of India’s young prodigies have already won medals in the senior category as well.
The year began with India achieving its best ever performance in an ISSF World Cup at Guadalajara, Mexico. India ended at the top of the medal tally with four gold medals; 16-year-old Manu Bhaker being one among them. She became the youngest Indian to win a gold medal at a World Cup when she took gold in the 10m air pistol category.
Following a successful World Cup, Indian shooters arrived at Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games with the expectations of many on their backs. Throughout the competition, India dominated the medals finishing with 7 golds and a total of 16 medals. Among the medals was 15-year-old Anish Bhanwala as well as 37-year-old Tejaswini Sawant, showcasing a perfect blend of youth and experience in the Indian shooting contingent. Medals were not limited to rifle and pistol events only, Trap shooters Ankur Mittal and Shreyasi Singh brought joy to the nation as well. Among all the sports, shooting ended up contributing the highest number of medals to India’s final medal tally.
The golden run continued at the Asian Games, where the number of medals as compared to previous years was expected to go down owing to the lesser number of events, this time around. However, Indian shooters performed exceedingly well among a world-class field of shooters. 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary beat the likes of Jin Jong-ho and Tomoyuki Matsuda to gold in the 10m air pistol event. The experienced Rahi Sarnobat eked out a gold medal in a thrilling contest with Naphaswan Yangpaiboon of Thailand, which lasted two tie-breakers in the final. India finished the competition with a total of 9 medals but what was particularly impressive was that both of India’s gold medals came in current Olympic events.
The World Championships at Changwon offered the first opportunity to bag some quota places for Tokyo 2020. While many came Indian shooters came agonizingly close to bagging some of those quotas, most fell a bit short. However, the story was much different for Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil in the 10m air rifle event. Both Anjum and Apurvi, showed extreme grit and composure to get India two precious quota places and Anjum grabbed the silver medal as well.
There are many notable performances to look back to in 2018. However, this has been a year where India’s young talents have made the nation proud on multiple occasions. The youngsters grabbed two golds and two silvers at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires to end an astounding year for Indian shooting. Among them, Saurabh is the current world record holder in the junior category of 10m air pistol finals. But, what is even more impressive is the fact that his junior world record betters the senior world record by nearly two points. While the likes of Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary and Anish Bhanwala have already made their presence felt in the senior circuit, Elavenil Valarivan, Hriday Hazarika and Mehuli Ghosh are not far behind either. Traditional stalwarts of the sport – China and South Korea have failed to maintain pace with India’s young shooters throughout the year. This was particularly visible in the Junior World Cups and World Championships where Indians ended up at the top of the medal tally on most occasions.
The single most notable thing about India’s performances in 2018, has been that medals have not been limited to a few shooters only. In many events now, India has a large field of athletes of world-class athletes to choose from. The likes of Abhishek Verma, Saurabh Chaudhary, Shahzar Rizvi, Om Prakash Mitharval and Jitu Rai all compete for spots in the 10m air pistol event. Similar competition can also be seen in the 10m air rifle event where Apurvi Chandela, Anjum Moudgil, Elavenil Valarivan, and Mehuli Ghosh are all capable of grabbing medals for the country.
With 2018 drawing to an end; there is a lot to look forward to in the new year. The Shooting World Cups begin in February with New Delhi being the host to the first such World Cup. It will offer Indian shooters to achieve some much needed Olympic quotas on their home turf. While Indian shooters have shown on multiple occasions that they are fearless and composed to take on the biggest challenges, it will be interesting to see if they could turn their promising performances of 2018 to Tokyo 2020 quotas in 2019.