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Rathore, Sandhu eye Olympic berths at Asian shooting

Last updated on: January 12, 2012 17:15 IST

Last opportunity for Rathore, Bhagwat and Sandhu



As the Indian shooting contingent gears up to earn more Olympic quota places in the Asian Shooting Championship that gets underway in Doha from Friday, coach Sunny Thomas says they can ill afford to replicate the previous edition's results.

"We all know what happened at the last Asian Championship in 2008 where not one quota could be bagged. It cannot, should not and will not be repeated. I am keeping my fingers crossed," Thomas said.

Athens Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, former trap world champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu and former world No. 1 in 10m air rifle Anjali Bhagwat are yet to qualify for the Olympics and the championship will be the last opportunity for them to book their berth for the mega event.

Nine Indian shooters, including the likes of Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and double trap world number 2 Ronjan Sodhi, have already booked their berths for the marquee event.

Photographs: Getty Images


'India has emerged as a powerhouse in world shooting'

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The final selection for the mega event, though, wrests with the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), who take into consideration the players' scores in competitions throughout 2011.

The association is expecting a good show with the performance of shotgun shooters at the recently concluded Asian Shotgun Championships adding to their aspirations.

- I could see nothing else but the target: Rathore

"India has emerged as a powerhouse in world shooting. We have had two World Champions and two junior World Champions, Olympic medallists and multiple World Cup winners," said NRAI president Raninder Singh.

"We have won medals at all major international competitions. We expect great shooting from our team in Doha and expect the quota tally to go up to around 14," he added.

India swept the Shotgun Championships with Rathore, Mansher Singh and Man Singh clinching gold medals.

Rathore, in fact, equalled the world record of 148/150 in qualifying round and is a frontrunner to bag one of the two quotas on offer in double trap event.

"I am in relatively decent form for the last couple of months," Rathore said.

"I was in and out of the Indian team due to a variety of reasons. Such treatment is not conducive to a good preparation.

"Do any of my competitors around the world doubt my ability to win again? No. But will I compete in the Olympics? One chance to qualify is very slim, it can go any way and every shooter in the field knows that. I am training for the best but prepared for the worst," he added.

Image: Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore
Photographs: Getty Images

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'There is no better feeling than winning gold for India'

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Meanwhile, world No. 2 Ronjan Sodhi is looking at the Asian Championship as an experimenting ground where he can fine tune his skills before the all important Olympics from July.

He has not competed in any event since becoming the first Indian to defend the World Cup title in October. However, he has been training in Italy almost on a non-stop basis with an eye on the London Games.

"I have already won the quota and this is the time for me to fine tune my shooting and experiment with my technique to ensure I peak at the Olympics," Sodhi said.

"Every competition is important and there is no better feeling than winning gold for India. I want to start the year well but more importantly I want to finish it on a high on the Olympic podium," he added.

The Indian team has been in Doha for the last two weeks to get acclimatised, a move Rathore says was the right one.

"It has been a wise decision to come here earlier and train, a lot of other countries are here too. We are posting good scores but do occasionally run into rough weather."

Like Rathore, 2006 world champion in trap Manavjit Sandhu and his long-time teammate Mansher Singh too are in the hunt for quotas.

In the rifle and pistol events the charge will be led by Bindra and Gagan Narang, the current Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee.

However, the emphasis will be on the women's air rifle team, that has yet to secure a quota place.

Image: Ronjan Sodhi
Photographs: Getty Images

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'We are well equipped to face any challenge'

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Veteran Bhagwat will lead the hunt along with promising youngsters Mampi Das and Ayonika Paul. Bhagwat has recently made a comeback to the sport and has travelled to Doha with her infant son.

"Anjali, Suma, Mampi and Ayonika are in form. It is difficult to predict who is going to click on the day of competition," said Thomas.

This is a continental championship as well as an Olympic qualifier and the NRAI wants to cement its reputation as Asia's shooting powerhouse along with China.

"We can take on China. Our medal tally was higher than China in the Asian Air Gun competition in Kuwait. We are well equipped to face any challenge," Raninder insisted.

The association expects a podium finish from the 10m womens air pistol shooters. The team had lost gold at the Asiad by just one point to China.

But with Annu Raj Singh bagging a quota place, the other shooters in the team are confident that they can get one as well.

The championship will commence from Friday with the men's 10m air rifle event and will conclude on January 21 with the trap final.

Image: Anjali Bhagwat
Photographs: Getty Images

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