After a year that saw India's ace shooters snare 15 Tokyo 2020 quotas, the contingent’s Olympic plans look on target
One of India's most successful sports of 2019 has been shooting. From Manu Bhaker to Zeena Khitta, the talent has been world-class and on more than one occasion, the class of the field.
Young and raring to go, India's shooters have dominated proceedings in global competitions where the cream of the crop from across the world turned up to compete.
With the overall medal tally standing at 21 gold, six silver and three bronze, India was on top of all Rifle-Pistol World Cups and Finals.
That healthy showing brought with it a bonus of precious Olympic quotas, which stand at 15 as of now.
However, it was not an easy turnaround but one that was achieved after the NRAI introduced wholesale changes in its practices following the Rio 2016 disappointment, when India returned home empty-handed.
Thanks to a considerable focus on its junior programme, shooters like Divyansh Singh Panwar, Elavenil Valarivan, Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary have shone brightly.
The 10m field became India's stomping grounds in 2019, as Valarivan, Apurvi Chandela, and Anjum Moudgil ended up first, third and fourth respectively in the world rankings.
In the Rio World Cup, India hauled nine medals and followed that up with three more in the World Cup Finals in Putian, China.
One of the biggest stories of 2019 was the coming of age of Saurav Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker, both household names by now.
Chaudhary kicked off his debut 2019 ISSF World Cup campaign at the opening round in Delhi with a trifecta of accolades — gold in the men's 10m air pistol final, a world record at the event, and perhaps sweetest of all, an Olympic quota place.
His incredible run continued at the following events with a gold medal each in Beijing and Munich and bronze at the Rio World Cup in September.
Bhaker was no slouch either. She left it a bit late in the year to truly shine in individual events but at the ISSF World Cup Final in Putian, China, and then at the 2019 Asian Shooting Championship in Qatar, she returned to her usual fine fettle, winning gold in the 10m Air Pistol categories at both events.
Along the way, the two made an excellent pairing for the mixed team contests, clinching gold in the mixed team 10m air pistol at all four events.
Apart from the usual suspects, there were also some pleasant surprises in the form of Zeena Khitta and Ayushi Podder.
Hailing from Himachal Pradesh, 18-year-old Khitta upset world number three Chandela and Mehuli Ghosh at the 63rd National Shooting Championships to clinch gold in the 10m Air Rifle event in Bhopal in December.
At the same event, Bengal's Ayushi Podder bagged the silver medal in the 50m Rifle 3-position junior women's event, as well as gold and silver in the 10m Air Rifle junior and senior team events respectively.
India went into Rio 2016 with 12 quotas but returned home without a single medal to their name. The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) is taking no chances this time around.
In looking to shield the athletes from possible distractions, the NRAI has banned the shooters from signing any new commercial deals in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020. Even the shooters' parents have had to sign bonds to ensure the same.
The shooters will have more opportunities to keep blazing their trail en route to Tokyo, and one of them will be the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi in March 2020.
Tokyo 2020 looks set to be a redemption of the highest order, possibly even exceeding the medal tally of London 2012, which remains till date Indian shooting’s best showing at an Olympic event.