Shooters take aim at a medal for India first (Beijing Olympics Preview)

August 8th, 2008 - 3:45 pm ICT by IANS  

By V. Krishnaswamy
Beijing, Aug 8 (IANS) The Indian hockey team has invariably bailed out the rest of the contingent with their reasonable showing in Olympics, but this time around they are not there for the first time in 80 years. And shooters are a big hope in Beijing. The Indians will begin their medal hunt on the first day of the competition itself at the Beijing Shooting Range Hall Saturday. The qualification and finals in the 10 metres men’s air pistol and the women’s 10 metres air rifle qualification rounds and the finals are scheduled.

Kicking off the challenge for India on the first full day of competition after the Opening Ceremony will be 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games stars Samaresh Jung in the men’s 10m Air Pistol and Avneet Kaur Sidhu, Suma Shirur and Anjali Bhagwat in the women’s 10m Air Rifle event. Then there is the first day of the two-day trap competition.

The other five in the nine-member shooting squad are no less pumped up than the four going into competition on the opening day.

“We can win medals because we all have the potential,” said World Trap champion and Olympic debutant Manavjit Singh Sandhu, whose father, Gurbir, himself shot at the 1976 Olympics.

Manav will be accompanied by Mansher Singh in trap.

Rajyavardhan Rathore, silver medallist at the 2004 Games in Double Trap, has been the toast of the nation for the last four years, so much so he cannot escape a single social or sports gathering without needing to answer questions about his preparation and medal chances.

“I know people have a lot of expectations. But I can only do my best and if I do that I am happy,” said Rathore, who was given the honour of carrying the Indian flag at the Opening Ceremony.

Baljeet Singh Sethi, secretary-general of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) and also the deputy chef de mission of the contingent here, said: “We should get some medals at these Games. We have great hopes in shooting. We have at least five-six shooters who can get into the final and once they do, anything can happen.”

The other members of the shooting team are Anjali Vedpathak in the women’s 50m Rifle, World champion Abhinav Bindra and World Cup champion Gagan Narang in the men’s Air Rifle 10m and Sanjiv Rajput in Rifle 3-position.

Jung, who won five gold medals besides a silver and bronze each to grab the David Dixon Award for the best athlete of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, knows shooting standards in his event at the Olympics are way above the levels at which he won his bagful of medals.

Yet, cool as a cucumber, Jung has a smiling demeanour, which says it all. “I do my best when I go to the range and that’s what matters.”

Jung, who made the Olympic grade by finishing fourth at the 2007 World Cup in Munich, will need to shoot way above the levels that won him medals at Melbourne, but he refuses to get tense about it.

Avneet, in the last two years since she won a gold - with Tejaswini Sawant in women’s 10m Air Rifle (pairs) - and an individual silver at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, has matured into one of the most consistent Indian shooters.

Now carrying an experience of no less than nine World Cup competitions, Arjuna award winner Avneet made the cut for the Olympics with her entry into the World Championships final in Zagreb, Croatia in 2006, where she finished eighth.

A bronze medallist at both the Asian games in Doha 2006 and the Asian Championships in Kuwait in 2007, she has hit good form with a gold medal at the Australia Cup at Sidney in January.

Avneet now wants to give back to the fans with a medal here. “It is simply great news that I have been given Arjuna Award. I am overwhelmed and now I want to do something for India and the best thing will be if I win a medal here,” she said after her practice session at the Beijing Shooting Range.

“It is going to be very tough, the field is very formidable and the toughest challenge is from Czech, German, Russian and Chinese shooters,” added Avneet.

“I agree it is going to be a very hard task, but I don’t think it is impossible. After all somebody amongst the participants is going to win (the medals),” said Avneet, who on her facebook pages calls “shooting as an addiction”.

Avneet, the first woman shooter from Punjab, participating in the Beijing Olympics, feels that she is well prepared for the competition. “I will be taking part in my pet event 10m air rifle and also 50 m air rifle,” she said.

Having won 14 gold medals, seven silver medals and six bronze medals in various international and national level competitions, Avneet is now looking at the biggest prize of all - an Olympic medal.

After Jung and Avneet start off, the young Manavjit Singh and the experienced Mansher Singh will take the stage.

“Coming to the Olympics has been a great experience but we know we can compete for the medals at this level. We are fully prepared,” said Manavjit, who won the gold medal at the World Championships in Zagreb in 2006 and the silver at the World Cup in Kerrville in the United States.

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