A shot at glory: Shooters need to learn lessons from Rio and Tokyo debacles to prepare for Paris

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A shot at glory: Shooters need to learn lessons from Rio and Tokyo debacles to prepare for Paris

By Dilip Unnikrishnan

Last week, Vijayveer Sidhu won silver in the men’s 25m rapid-fire pistol at the Asia Olympic Qualification event. It was a win that clinched a record-extending 17th Olympic quota spot in shooting for India at the 2024 Paris Games, with potentially a few more on the way in the months leading up to the Games.

Though the achievement is worthy of being celebrated, it needs to be tempered with the fact that India has merely won the right of sending 17 shooters for the Olympics. That is not a reflection of the field of competition that was present at the quota events.

In fact, Sidhu got his Paris quota before even a shot was fired in the six-player final – three shooters had already secured their berths at the Olympics, one was ineligible, and the remaining finalists took the two available spots.

All in all, everything looks picture perfect in the run-up to the Olympics. Come July 2024, India could have another shooting medalist after Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Vijay Kumar and Gagan Narang.

However, one only needs to cast a look at the years preceding the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to realise that India are in danger of committing the same mistakes in the run-up to Paris. 

Going into the Tokyo Olympics, India were the most successful nation on the 2019 ISSF World Cup tour, winning 21 gold medals. There were a record 15 Indian shooters at the Tokyo Olympics, but they returned with only one shooter making it even to the final.

Foreign coaches and the Covid-19 pandemic were among many things blamed for the poor showing in Tokyo. But what cannot be discounted was the pressure of expectations exerted on the shooters when they travelled to Japan. Given how successful they were at the lesser World Cups, it was assumed that they were sureshot medallists.

We are in danger of building up that pressure again.

It has been a very fruitful 12 months for Indian shooting. The contingent returned with a best-ever haul of 22 medals at the Asian Games in October last year, including seven gold medals. Only hosts China, with 29 medals, fared better than India.

This was preceded by a 14-medal haul at the 2023 World Championships in August, which included three medals in Olympic disciplines. Four of the 17 Paris Olympic quotas were also secured at the World Championships.

In Paris, the level of competition will be much higher than at the Asian Games or the World Championships. While there were a record 105 shooting medals on offer at the Asiad, only 45 medals will be on offer in the sport in Paris.

Indian shooters have consistently shown that they are at par with the world’s best when it comes to technique. It is their mental preparation at the big events that has caught the Indian shooters lacking.

Narang, a 2012 Olympics bronze medal winner, called the Olympic Games “unforgiving”, where even the smallest errors are compounded.

Joydeep Karmakar, who finished fourth in the 50m men’s rifle event at the 2012 London Olympics, said after the Tokyo disappointment that shooters need to take the Olympics more seriously than other tournaments. 

The Olympic Games are more prestigious than the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, or even the World Championships after all.

A new generation of shooters has been unearthed in India, with new beliefs and greater exposure to mental training. But the Olympics can make even the most prepared athletes crumble.

The least India can do is allow the shooters to prepare without much background noise.

Fun Fact of the week: At the start of the 2024 Australian Open, there were eight mothers competing in the women’s singles main draw – including four former champions at Melbourne Park.

Victoria Azarenka, Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki are all former winners of the year’s first Grand Slam, and former world No 1s. Competing along with them are Elina Svitolina, Tatjana Maria, Yanina Wickmayer and Taylor Townsend.

The last player to win a singles Grand Slam title after giving birth was Kim Clijsters, who won three of her four Majors after becoming a mother. After the birth of her daughter in 2008, she won the US Open in 2009 and 2010, along with the Australian Open in 2011.

Here's a recap of the top stories from this past week

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