The Indian shooters are keen to raise the bar
Speculation can often be a futile exercise but Indian shooters' success stories in recent years have ensured that they head into the London Olympics with bright hopes of adding on to Abhinav Bindra's historic gold-medal feat in Beijing four summers ago.
Providing fillip to such thoughts are their composure and confidence.
Notwithstanding the hoopla and expectations around them, the likes of Ronjan Sodhi, Bindra and Gagan Narang preferred not to shoot from the lip in the run-up to the Games, as they are well aware that it's the scores on the given day that will matter eventually.
In national coach Sunny Thomas' words, the Indians are keen to raise the bar at the Royal Artillery Barracks, which will play host to the creme de la creme of world shooting from July 27.
Image: Abhinav Bindra of India looks up during the men's 10m air rifle final shooting competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
Photographs: REUTERS/Desmond Boylan
Gagan Narang will be a top contender
Among the top shooters from across the globe, India will have its contenders in defending champion Bindra, Sodhi and Gagan Narang.
While the three mentioned above are seen as India's brightest medal hopes in shooting, the others are no less talented and have the ability to hit the bull's eye on their day.
From nine in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the number of shooters for the London Games have swelled to 11, which is the highest ever.
Eleven is quite an impressive number and one cannot also overlook the fact that Indian shooters have upped their standards since August 11, 2008 when Bindra shot an incredible 700.5 to clinch the men's 10m Air Rifle gold at the Beijing Shooting Range.
By regularly winning medals at various international competitions, including the World Cups and World Championships, the Indian shooters have become a force to reckon with at the world stage, and London will provide them with an opportunity to call the shots on the planet's biggest sporting spectacle.
Image: Gagan Narang of India at Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range
Photographs: Simran Kaur
'The confidence also has gone up after we won medals in Athens and Beijing'
As far as the shooters' prospects in London are concerned, Thomas sounds optimistic.
"The numbers (of shooters) have gone up from nine (in Beijing Games) to 11 this time and the confidence also has gone up after we won medals in Athens (Rajyavardhan Rathore's silver in 2004) and Beijing," he says.
That the shooters are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to return home with a rich haul, only adds to the hopes and expectations.
"They have been training hard for long periods and played in a lot of competitions.
"The effort is to bring them to peak form at the time of Olympics. That is what matters and not what we have done in the past. Previous outings don't matter," Thomas says.
Image: India's Rajyavardhan S. Rathore competes in the men's double trap final of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games
Photographs: REUTERS/Guang Niu
Vijay Kumar will start India's campaign
It also remains to be seen how they beat the Olympic pressure. In that regard, the presence of someone like Bindra will surely be reassuring.
Vijay Kumar will start India's campaign when he takes to the range for his the 10-metre Air Pistol event on July 28, a day after the opening ceremony.
Vijay had a good outing in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, winning three gold and one silver medal. He then went on to win two bronze at the Guangzhou Asian Games. Vijay also has two silver medals in last three years at ISSF World Cups.
In action a day after Vijay will be Heena Sidhu and Annuraj Singh in the women's 10-metre Air Pistol event.
Certain quarters have questioned Sidhu's selection but, to her credit, she has not let that affect her. July 30 could turn out to be a big day for India as Bindra and Narang will be representing the country in their pet event, 10-metre Air Rifle.
Image: Vijay Kumar (left) and Heena Sidhu and Annu Raj Singh
Photographs: REUTERS/Danish Ismail/Krishnendu Halder
Ronjan Sodhi is the country's biggest medal hope
Two days later, Sodhi, Indian shooting's Mr Consistent and perhaps the country's biggest medal hope, will look to hit the bull's eye in the double trap event.
First-timer Olympian Sodhi, who is training in Italy along with compatriots Manavjit Singh Sandhu and Shagun Choudhary, will head to London with two world titles under his belt.
Then there are also Sanjeev Rajput, Joydeep Karmakar and Rahi Sarnobat -- all capable of producing scores good enough to get medals.
Rapid fire pistol specialist Vijay, Annu Raj Singh and Sarnobat are having their final training stint in Hanover, Germany.
Karmakar has been in Germany for a while, training with Bindra and coach Heinz Reinkemeier, who helped the 10-metre rifle ace from Punjab's Zirakpur clinch gold in Beijing.
While the techinal and mental aspects are on the shooters' hands, what is not going to be is London's tricky weather. But if they maintain focus and concentration, it would not be surprising if the Indian shooters bring home a few medals and make it an English August for them.
Image: Ronjan Sodhi of India competes in the men's double trap at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range during day four of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games
Photographs: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images