Universal delight over Saina Nehwal’s bronze medal notwithstanding, it is the shooters who succoured India’s hopes of matching the Beijing medals tally at London right through the otherwise dismal first week.
Gagan Narang won a bronze in the 10m air rifle, Vijay Kumar a silver in the 25m rapid fire pistol and with a little luck, Joydeep Karmarkar, who narrowly finished 4th in the 50m prone could have been in the medal-winners list too.
True, Beijing gold medallist Abhinav Bindra came a cropper here in the 10m air rifle and Ronjan Sodhi lost his nerve in the double trap when in sight of a podium place, but overall performances and standards suggest that India’s prowess in shooting is world class and most likely to sustain future Olympic hopes.
Vijay in fact broke the existing Olympic record of 585 in the rapid fire pistol, and there was not a single shooter who got disgraced. If anything, Narang in the fray on Monday too for the 50m three position rifle, there is hope of another medal too.
India have had representation at the Olympics for several decades now, first through Karni Singh and later Randhir Singh — who is now secretary general of the IOA — but it is Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver at the Athens Games in 2004 that gave the sport a fillip in the country.
Since 2004, Indian shooting has been on the upswing, reaching global standards – but not with controversy and rancor. Most shooters – Bindra and Narang notably – have complained about the lack of facilities and incentive to excel.
Regulatory hurldes in importing equipment and arms, as well as the fact that this is an expensive sport to pursue at the competitive level, have stymied many young shooters. Even Narang almost quit the sport a few years back for want of encouragement.
Fortunately for Bindra and Narang, they were recipients of grants from private funders (LN Mittal foundation for Bindra, Olympic Gold Quest for Narang) which helped them acquire better training and international exposure.
The government has made some moves lately to facilitate shooters, but not enough has been done to ensure a greater supply line at the bottom or top levels. More ranges have to be created at the grassroots level, and the elite shooters need to be encouraged to get as much international exposure as possible. What makes Indian shooting rich is the diversity of practitioners. Of the two medal winners, Vijay is a subedar in the Indian army while Narang comes from a business family. Bindra too comes from a business family in Chandigarh.
This refutes the time-held stereotype that only those from royalty (Karni and Randhir Singh in the past) or the defence forces can be good at this sport. Ordinary people too can take to the sport, and come good.
Since shooting does not demand great physical movement, rather high levels of concentration and focus, it appears to suit the Indian psyche. As countries like Kazakhastan and North Korea have shown, intense focus on a few disciplines can yield gold medals. India could do the same with shooting.