Age no barrier to India's young shooting brigade

With a clutch of young talent eager to prove their worth at the big stage, Indian shooters are raring to go ahead of the Tokyo Olympics

By Naveen Peter ·

Shooting has been India’s go-to discipline for medals at recent Olympic Games.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won India's first shooting medal at Athens 2004 with Beijing 2008 gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar continuing the trend till London 2012.

But at Rio 2016, Indian shooters cut a sorry figure as they failed to convert favouritism into medals.

Jitu Rai had a difficult time in the 10m Air Pistol while Bindra came agonisingly close to winning his second Olympic medal in the 10m air rifle, losing out in a shoot-off to Ukraine’s Serhiy Kulish.

That disappointment prompted the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) to make a slew of changes which pushed a young breed of shooters to the forefront.

Under the guidance of former Asian Games medallist Jaspal Rana, these upstarts soon went on to become the face of Indian shooting.

With another Olympics fast approaching, it’s these shooters who will lead the Indian challenge at Tokyo 2020. We look at a few who could set the Asaka Shooting Range alight come the Games.

Saurabh Chaudhary

Age is just a number for Saurabh Chaudhary.

At 16, he burst onto the scene with a terrific performance to win gold in the 10m air pistol at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

Since then, he has climbed the ladder of success through sheer determination and grit.

Making his debut at the senior ISSF World Cup in New Dehli in February, Chaudhary shot a world record of 245 to take gold and clinch an Olympic quota spot for India.

He also teamed up with Manu Bhaker in New Delhi to take mixed team 10m pistol gold with the pair repeating the feat in Beijing in March.

Then in Munich in May, just days after turning 17, he incredibly broke his own world record with 246.3 to claim his second individual World Cup title of the year and won his third mixed team gold with Bhaker.

With a few meets lined up before he heads to Tokyo, this youngster will be hoping to make a mark at the grandest stage of all.

Manu Bhaker

Another 17-year-old, Bhaker has been on the international scene slightly longer than Chaudhary.

She attracted the limelight by becoming the youngest Indian to win an ISSF World Cup event in March last year, beating local star Alejandra Zavala in Guadalajara, Mexico in the 10m air pistol.

Bhaker continued that form to claim gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, but returned home empty-handed from the Asian Games after a rare poor outing in Jakarta.

She bounced back to form with individual gold at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games and a silver in the mixed 10m air pistol event.

Manu Bhaker googles medals ahead of Buenos Aires

The Indian shooter looked up what the Youth Olympic Medals looked like befo...

As well as teaming up with Chaudhary to great effect this year, her fourth place in Munich saw her claim India's seventh Olympic quota place.

Having already experienced the highs and lows of an athlete’s life so early in her career, Bhaker has what it takes to challenge for an Olympic medal in Tokyo.

Abhishek Verma

While he calls himself a "hobby shooter", anyone who has seen Abhishek Verma in action will soon realise that the 30-year-old is much more than that.

A computer science student who went on to take up law, Verma started shooting in 2015 as a hobby.

Three years later, he was in the Indian team and took bronze in his debut event, the 2018 Asian Games, behind Chaudhary.

In 2019, Verma stepped out of his young compatriot's shadow to take gold in the Beijing ISSF World Cup.

That saw him clinch India's second Olympic quota place in the 10m air pistol and the late bloomer from Haryana gives India two genuine medal hopes in the discipline at Tokyo 2020.

Rahi Sarnobat

She’s been around for a long time, but the last year has seen Rahi Sarnobat really crack the big time.

Now 28, Sarnobat won pistol pairs gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games before taking individual gold in the 25m pistol four years later.

After something of a lull, she came back to become India's first individual female shooting gold medallist at the Asian Games in Jakarta last year.

Rahi Sarnobat won a gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games

And this year she won in Munich for her first ISSF World Cup triumph since 2013.

Training under two-time Olympic medallist Munkhbayar Dorjsuren, Sarnobat looks a strong contender for a medal in Tokyo if she can maintain her fine run of form.

Apurvi Chandela

One of India’s more experienced female shooters, Apurvi Chandela will be eager to put Rio 2016 disappointment behind her.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games 10m air rifle champion took bronze in the defence of that title on the Gold Coast last year.

But this year has seen her move up a level with gold at the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi in a world record of 252.9.

And after finishing fourth in Beijing, the 26-year-old from Jaipur claimed her second gold in Munich in May.

Now the top-ranked rifle shooter in the world, Chandela will be keen to keep that form going deep into the season.

India will count on her and Sarnobat's experience to lead the young brigade when they embark on their Olympic journey next year.