This is Part 1 of a four part series explaining the Olympic qualification for shooting in Tokyo 2020. Given the proximity to the ISSF Shooting World Cup in Delhi later this month where quota places for Tokyo 2020 will be up for grabs, we look to provide a concise overview to understand where the Indian athletes currently stand with a view to the Games.
Shooting has been one of India’s greatest hopes for Olympic medals, if not the greatest hope, since the turn of the century. Sydney 2000 saw stalwarts like Anjali Bhagwat (nee Vedpathak) and a certain young Abhinav Bindra aspire for Olympic medals, with Anjali reaching the final while Abhinav missed the final by a solitary point.
Manchester 2002 turned out to be a watershed moment for Indian shooting with a total of 24 medals, including a whopping 14 Gold.
Since then, Indian shooting has gone from strength to strength, winning 4 Olympic medals, including our lone individual GOLD, and a host of World Cup, Asiad and CWG medals. Nowadays, with the tremendous investment undertaken in youth by the National Rifle Association of India, it seems a new name is heard every few days with young guns like Manu Bhaker, Mehuli Ghosh, Elavenil Valarivan, Saurabh Chaudhary and now Esha Singh grabbing the headlines with their fearless performances.
However, for the casual fan (and sometimes even for the media), understanding shooting can be a daunting challenge with multiple types of guns and multiple events, and with many of the same shooters participating in different events.
In 2004, Suma Shirur’s appearance in the final and eventual 8th place finish was reduced by the media to “finished last”. I can relate my own personal experience when, sitting in an IIT Bombay lecture in 2007, our professor asked the class if anyone knew the event in which Col. Rajyavardhan Rathore won his Athens Silver, and I was the only one who did.
In online sports forums during London 2012, many fans used to evaluate medal chances of shooters just by how big names they were, oblivious to their differing performances in different events. Understanding the Olympic qualification procedures can be another complicated exercise in itself. Thus, this article series attempts to explain some of the basics of Olympic shooting, so as to enable fans to have a more enjoyable viewing experience.
For Tokyo 2020, shooting will consist of 15 events. These can be classified on the basis of the type of gun used.
Rifle – This is a long-barrelled gun, held with both hands, with lengthwise grooves cut on the inside of the barrel. The grooves cause the pellet to spin, which along with the long barrel, makes this the most accurate of the 3 Olympic gun types. Historically, rifles have been widely used in the military.
Pistol – This is a short-barrelled gun, or handgun, held with only one hand. Handguns are most widely used by the police. It is the least accurate of the 3 Olympic gun types.
Shotgun – This is the hunting gun (though it has also seen a lot of use in the military). It has a long barrel, but with no grooves, and is held by both hands. The bullet, or shot, is actually composed of a number of small pellets which scatter upon firing, thus making it easier to hit a moving target.
Each gun type will be used in 5 events at Tokyo – 2 for men, 2 for women and 1 mixed team event, which will be contested for the first time at the Olympics. Like most bowlers in cricket decide early on in their careers whether to be a seam or a spin bowler, pretty much all shooters decide early on whether they want to be a rifle, pistol or a shotgun shooter. However, just like bowlers often aim to compete in Tests, ODIs as well as T20s, once shooters have selected their preferred gun type, they often desire to complete in multiple events using the same gun type (in the Indian context though, a key exception is Abhinav Bindra, who always stuck to just a single event from an early age).