Sports Shooting for the stars

Shooting for the stars

Vinayak Padmadeo

Something told the Indian shooting coaches to watch out. As they embarked for an 80-day training in Croatia, the coaches asked all the members of the team to shut themselves out from social media. Reason: They felt the team would be drowned by many pulls and pushes from the outside, especially on some on the Tokyo-bound team, including Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil, who had been suffering from a bout of bad scores.

Anjum Moudgil

The team management and the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) knew that the Croatia stint would make or break this team. Apart from a blanket ban of social media, the team was instructed by the NRAI to not directly engage with the media, and rather go through a point person, who was asked to service media requests. “The team was told to stop using social media platforms on the last day of quarantine in Zagreb (May 17) as it could be unnerving to some. It worked out well for most of our trip,” said rifle coach Deepali Deshpande. “But then you have friends and relatives who forward you news stories, so in a true sense you aren’t that cut off from the world. All I can say is that the team coped well together.”

Just to explain the effectiveness of the team cocoon, Deepali said that a few of the team members were shocked after getting to know of actor Aamir Khan’s divorce. “It was a shock to all of us,” she says with a loud bout of laughter.

Saurabh Chaudhary


As much as the team fought off the outside pressures, a few stories did reach the team bubble, causing heartburns.

It all started with the dip in form at the Osijek World Cup. World No. 2 rifle shooters Divyansh Singh Panwar and Deepak Kumar failed to make the final. Similarly, world No. 1 Elavenil Valarivan and Apurvi bombed. The knives were soon out.

Surreptitiously, Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar, who will represent India in the 50m 3 Positions rifle discipline, was entered into the 10m air rifle competition. While Divyansh and Deepak floundered after shooting high scores during training, Tomar soared into the final, getting a respectable seventh position.

Tomar, who was entered in the field to get match practice, has now been touted to replace Deepak in the mixed team competition. Similarly, Anjum’s place on the mixed team even is under question, with Apurvi being her possible replacement. All this has unsettled the team a bit.

Rahi Sarnobat

To cut out the noise, the entire team took three days off from training after returning from Osijek. Team dinners and walkabouts were planned to relax the tightened nerves. As they took their flight for the Tokyo Olympics from Zagreb Croatia on Friday, those doubts persisted.

However, Deepali firmly denies such talk. “Nothing of that is happening. Like Anjum recovered to post a good score in Delhi, others will recover as their scores have started to come up well,” she says.

Angad Bajwa

New partnership

If there are cracks on the rifle ranges, there is a new partnership in the pistol discipline. Coach Ronak Pandit, who had hardly interacted with Manu Bhaker in the last few years, apart from formal greetings on the ranges, was suddenly asked to help the teenage sensation.

This sudden change was brought about after Manu and her then coach Jaspal Rana decided to part ways because of the coach’s public support for Chinki Yadav before the New Delhi World Cup in March. Jaspal had on a number of occasions, both publicly and privately, called for Chinki’s inclusion for the Tokyo Games. This irked Manu and she parted with her long-time coach.

However, the change was tricky and Pandit and Manu needed to understand each other quickly. Honest talks after dinner, walks — all the time available away from the ranges was utilised to break the barriers. Now both are set to be receptive to each other’s demands. Pandit demands full focus on the training range, while Manu has sought answers to correct many of her perceived weaknesses. Not doing well in finals of 25m pistol events was one of her perceived weaknesses.

“There is only so much one can do as she is an extremely talented and skilful shooter. And we forget sometimes that she is only 19,” Pandit says of his new recruit. “We noticed that she was not utilizing full time in the duelling round. You have to fire a shot in three seconds and the machine registers a shot until 3.2 seconds. She was pulling the trigger at around 2.4 seconds,” Pandit said.

“While it may not look that significant for a normal guy, this subtle adjustment is what counts in major competitions. She did well in the World Cup, as her qualification score was very good. However, she did not get the desired result in the final. I am not worried about her one bit. She will surprise many,” the coach reckons.

After winning the 10m air pistol mixed event gold medals at ISSF World Cups, the pairs of Manu-Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma-Yashaswini Deswal are favorites to at least bag one podium finish in Tokyo.

Rahi’s journey

While the focus is rightly on the mixed events and on Saurabh, one shooter who is working quietly under the radar is pistol shooter Rahi Sarnobat. Rahi bagged the only gold for the Indian contingent at the Osijek World Cup, in the 25m pistol category.

“I don’t remember her shooting a 9 in training for a very long time,” Ronak said of his former trainee. “She seems super focused and her scores in training have been world class. Her body language exudes confidence.”

Chinese challenge

While there is hope that this talented team — which has been dominant across the world in the last couple of years — would return with a bagful of medals from Tokyo, Olympian and now rifle coach Joydeep Karmakar says we need to be mindful of a few teams .

The biggest threat he foresees is from the Chinese contingent, who have not been fielding their teams in events for some time now. “There is no doubt that our team is talented and I am also hopeful that they will do well,” Karmakar, who finished fourth at the London Games, said. “We need a little perspective here. I know that there is a good chance that both our teams in the mixed air pistol event would enter the finals. However, we have to factor things like China. Now we have not seen the Chinese team for a while now. No one knows about their preparation. I think the Chinese team comprises 80 per cent new faces. They will be a threat,” Karmakar cautioned.

When the team was flying off to Croatia, an official said ‘it will either make or break the team’. In a week’s time, that prediction will start to take shape when the first of the shooting medals — in the 10m air pistol in both men and women disciplines — will be decided. A medal on July 24 will make this team.

Shooting at Tokyo

Number of Gold medals 15
6 men
6 women
3 mixed team

Event Dates
July 24 to August 2

Indian angle

India will have 15 shooters in the field: 8 in 4 men’s events, 7 in 4 women’s events, and 8 of the 15 will compete in the mixed-gender team events. The squad will compete in the Rifle, Pistol and Shotgun events.

Men’s squad, Schedule

Saurabh Chaudhary, Abhishek Verma: 10m Air Pistol, July 24

Angad Bajwa, Mairaj Ahmad Khan: Skeet, July 25, 26

Deepak Kumar, Divyansh Singh Panwar: 10m Air Rifle, July 25

Sanjeev Rajput, Aishwary Singh Tomar: 50m Rifle 3P, Aug 2

WoMen’s Squad, Schedule

Manu Bhaker, Yashaswini Deswal: 10m Air Pistol, July 25

Manu Bhaker, Rahi Sarnobat: 25m Pistol, July 29, 30

Apurvi Chandela, Elavenil Valarivan: 10m Air Rifle, July 24

Anjum Moudgil, Tejaswini Sawant: 50m Rifle 3P, July 31

Mixed squad, Schedule

Deepak Kumar, Anjum Moudgil: 10m Air Rifle, July 27

Divyansh Panwar, Elavenil Valarivan: 10m Air Rifle July 27

Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker: 10m Air Pistol, July 27

Abhishek Verma, Yashaswini Deswal: 10m Air Pistol, July 27


There are several changes since 2016 Games: the number of shooters for 15 events has been reduced from 390 to 360 — 180 men and women each; 3 male-only events (rifle prone, free pistol, double trap) have been replaced by mixed team competitions.

Rifle, Pistol

  • Each event has qualification rounds and a final phase.
  • Shooters score between one and 10 points for each shot, depending on which ring is hit. Each ring is divided into 10 zones, which are worth from 1.0 to 10.9 points.


In the Trap, Double Trap and Skeet events, shooters must hit ‘clays’ (flying discs) that are flung into the air from machines on the ground.


At Rio 2016, Italy topped with 4 gold while Germany had 3 gold; Indians returned empty-handed. At London 2012, S Korea and USA won 3 gold each, India won 1 silver, 1 bronze.

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