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Are Indian pistol shooters staring at a Rio 2016-like result in Tokyo Olympics?

Indian pistol shooters had anticlimactic results in the last two days of competition at the Tokyo Olympics. Are we staring at Rio 2016-like debacle? Or is it too early to draw a conclusion?

Indian Pistol Shooters Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary

Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary (Source: NRAI)


Md Imtiaz

Updated: 26 July 2021 2:53 AM GMT

"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of the things." If one revisits this eternal dialogue from Shawshank Redemption, it could bite us back pretty well in the Olympics.

Anybody who took a chance of predicting India's performance at the Tokyo Olympics had put their good faith on the shooters. India has sent a strong shooting contingent of 15 members to this year's Game.
Deemed as part of India's shooting renaissance, high hopes were put on the pistol shooters Saurabh Chaudhury and Manu Bhaker. What followed was a series of anticlimatic performances that reminds us again of unexorcised ghosts of the Rio Olympics in 2016.
India has hoped for at least a single podium finish in the individual pistol events in Tokyo, but here's how our best hopes faltered.
The teenage phenomena Saurabh Chaudhury showcased his raw potential when he finished the 10m air pistol qualification event on top of the standings, having shot 586. Chaudhury, who picked up gold in every tournament from the ISSF World Championship, ISSF World Cup, Youth Olympic Games, Asian Games, and Asian Air Gun Championship, was standing on the verge of being the youngest Indian bag a silverware at the biggest stage of the world.
But then came the final, where the heroes are made. Saurabh never recovered from his initial shots in the final, went off warding an exit in tie-breakers. However, the next shoot-off went against his favour. The 19-year-old bid farewell in his individual round after finishing 7th.
Abhishek Verma, the other Indian in the fray, was also in contention to make the cut after staging an excellent rally, but two eights in the final series dashed his hopes. He finished 17th with 575 in the qualifiers.
Again, a world no.1 in his art, started with a 94 and after being behind, got his act together and continued his march up the leaderboard until two 8s and as many 9s in the last series did him in.

Saurabh Chaudhury and Abhishek Verma (Source: NRAI)
Soon after Chaudhury and Verma's unassuming show in the men's individual category, the nation started pitting their 'hope' again on Manu Bhaker and Yashaswini Singh Deswal to get that reward back home where the two men had dropped.
Bhaker and Deswal have also been by far the two best women's air pistol shooters in the world over the past three years, with both taking turn to be world number one. With no broadcast available, the 'hopefuls' glued themselves to the Official score sheet of the Olympics. But the numbers kept churning disappointments.
World no.2 Bhaker, was dealing with a technical glitch of her gun after having an impressive start. This is where the momentum fizzled out. She opened at 98, followed by 95, 94 and a 95 in the next three series.
The young shooter eventually dropped out of the top-10. The Commonwealth Games and Youth Olympics gold medallist tried to stage a comeback with 98 in the fifth series but caved in under pressure in a below-par concluding series, which saw her shooting one 8 and three 9s, finishing at the 12th place.
World no. 1, Deswal meanwhile was battling ups and downs. She shot her way back into contention with a 98 in the second series. But she was not consistent enough to challenge the top guns, bowing out in 13th place with an aggregate of 574.
It also brought a grim flashback of the Rio Olympics when the Indian shooting team also looked very strong on paper. The likes of Abhinav Bindra, Jitu Rai were in scintillating form in their respective events.
Like Saurabh, Rai was India's biggest hope for an Olympic medal at the 2016 games in pistols and they met almost a similar fate when Rai finished 8th in the finals of the 10 meter Air Pistol. He couldn't even manage to qualify in the finals of his pet event — 50-meter pistol event.
Two back-to-back days of failure to secure a medal in the pistol events of Tokyo has rung the alarm bells. India will have a shot at it again on July 27, when Chaudhury and Bhaker will pair up for the mixed 10m air pistol event, along with the pair of Verma and Deswal.
The in-form Rahi Sarnobat is also a medal favourite in the women's 25m pistol event. The 30-year-old struck a gold at the recently concluded ISSF World Cup in Croatia.
The 'favourites' tag is again heavily stacked on her because of her vast experience. But then again, we have to retort back to the opening paragraph of this column. India still looks to vanquish the demons of Rio in Tokyo and they still have a good shot at it.

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