Never has an Indian shooting contingent looked stronger going into an Olympics than it is now, says 2008 gold medallist Abhinav Bindra. Since September 1, 2018 -- the beginning of the qualification period for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Indian shooters have won a record 15 Olympic quota places. (More Sports News)
Only the USA (21) and China (23) have managed more, but more Indians could go through on the basis of their world rankings on May 31, 2020.
"Never have we ever gone to an Olympics with such bright chances. We have 15 athletes and each one of them, who have qualified, is capable of winning a medal," Bindra told IANS.
Among shooters who emerged in the qualification period have been teenagers like pistol shooters Sourabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker. Bindra said that the fact that the team is young makes it difficult to predict results at Tokyo.
"It's a very young team so it's very hard to predict performance. However, they have already shown that they have what it takes to win at the highest level. That is all we can do going into the Games and then it boils down to how we perform at that given day. But of course, going into these Games, a lot of Indian shooting athletes have looked capable of winning medals which I think has never happened before," he said.
Those that follow Indian shooting or India's performance at the Olympics in general, would be forgiven for tempering their expectations. India had gone into the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with big expectations from the shooting contingent, of which Bindra himself was a part. It turned out to be the first Olympics since 2000 in which no Indian was able to clinch a medal in the shooting event.
Bindra, however, feels that the current crop of high-quality shooters is not a product of knee-jerk decisions made after the disappointing show in Rio.
"I think it is a culmination of work which has happened over a period of time," said Bindra. "I don't think such progress can happen because of one poor Olympics. It is a process in which the sport has evolved over the last 10 years and a lot of young people have come through. The process was triggered with the silver we won at Athens 2004, the gold in 2008 and the silver and bronze at London 2012.
"The government has been supportive and the federation (National Rifle Association of India) has one a good job in promoting a junior program. The results have come over a period of time and not because of something that happened one or two years ago."
He, however, refused to get into the fix of predicting exactly who will win a medal in Tokyo later in the year. "It is an unfair question to ask. All 15 have fantastic chances to win medals. I won't name a particular person as it will be very unfair on them and on the people that I don't name," he said.
India's first individual medal at the Olympics came through shooting at Athens 2002 when Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore -- who would later go on to serve as sports minister of the country -- won silver in the trap event. Interestingly, India did not win an Olympic quota in trap this time at all while it won two in skeet. When asked what is it that has led to shotgun events lagging behind pistol and rifle in the country, Bindra said the answer lies in the nature of the sport more than anything else.
"The air pistol and air rifle events allow for mass participation because these are not firearms. You just need a 10m range which several schools have put up in their campuses. So it's the nature of the sport which allows numbers to come.
"We have so many people participating in the rifle and pistol events in the nationals and pre-nationals. You won't see shotgun ranges coming up in neighbourhoods and schools or 12-year-old kids suddenly wielding a shotgun just for the fun of it. But with the rifle and pistol events, because it is not a firearm, the accessibility is much better and it is easier to set up. The participation we have in the shotgun events can't even be compared with what we have with the pistol and rifle events," he said.
Bindra retired from the sport shortly after the 2016 Olympics and has since successfully ventured into the field of sports business. His 'Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance', a group of sports performance and medical rehabilitation centres, recently announced a tie-up with Daivam Wellness.
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