'Shooters need to count on inner strengths'

Road to London: Athens Games bronze medallist Rajyavardhan Rathore analyses marksmens chances at London

'Shooters need to count on  inner strengths'

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore brought shooting into the consciousness of the nation when he won the double trap silver medal at the Athens Olympic Games.

That was the lone medal for India in 2004 and four years later, Abhinav Bindra went a step forward, shooting down the gold medal in the 10M air rifle. A record 11 Indian shooters will line-up in the London Olympic Games amid high expectations. Rathore, who will be a passionate observer of events unfolding in London this time, assesses India’s chances in this interview.

Excerpts: Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore

We have 11 shooters at the Olympic Games this time. How do you look at this step forward for your sport?

The increase in the shooters qualified for the Olympics demonstrates the fact that gradually the self-belief in the Indian shooters, their skill level and their competitive attitude is on the rise. This is also reflected in the number of participants in our national championships. And yet, this is still the tip of the ice-berg.

Are our shooters better prepared this time?

I have been witness to the Olympics shooting sports since 1998. There has been a quantum leap in terms of resources that have been made available both by the government -- majorly by the government -- and ably supported by the corporates in this Olympic cycle (2009 to 2012). Part of the reason was the Commonwealth Games while the prominence of shooting  as a medal winning sport also was a contributing factor.

There are many factors that go into Olympic preparations – resources is one of them. The mental preparations/ mental build-up/ approach to the event is another besides skill preparation. Taking all into account, I will not say that our shooters are the best prepared but now that the shooters are at the Olympics, they will have to count on their inner strengths to overcome some of the flaws in their preparations.

What are your expectations from the shooting team?

Amongst the 11 shooters, we have at least four who are potential medal winners. Amongst the four I expect at least two to have a podium finish. I expect some of them to make the final. I do understand that my expectations are a bit far from the general expectations of the country which feels that 11 shooters would mean more podium finishes. But I am being more realistic.

Is Abhinav Bindra capable of a repeat performance?

Undoubtedly, skill-wise Abhinav is capable of repeating the Beijing effort. He is an extremely talented shooter and despite his distractions and other commitments, I feel he has devoted the last one year to the sport entirely. And that has seen him scale a few heights again – climbing towards higher scores. This brings the promise of a déjà vu for him.

What are the challenges a shooter faces when he attempts a repeat performance?

In contrast to strength sports, performance in shooting (I am emphasising the word performance because skill is different) calls for enormous amount of mental and emotional effort. The razor sharp focus of a hungry bird on a prey cannot be compared to a bird that has just had a meal (I am talking in general, not about Abhinav here).

It is this extra-concentration, extra-determination that in shooting can make a difference of one to two points and that can be a difference. So when attempting a back to back performance, you just run up against your hunger for it.

What are Gagan Narang’s chances? Is he right in going for three events?
Undoubtedly Gagan was at his best in 2010.

Gagan is a shooter who knows how to win big matches. I count him in the league of Abhinav. He has tried his best to reproduce the same feel in the run up to the Olympics. Only he knows best how close he is to the feel he had in 2010. I would say not entirely, but close enough. But given his hunger and talent, Gagan can travel that extra mile. Gagan and Abhinav stand equal chance in this Olympics of making it to the podium.

Gagan is also shooting three events. I am sure his coach and he would have made an educated choice or a well-thought out decision but personally I feel he needs to prioritise the event that gives him a winning chance and that in my opinion is the 10M air rifle.

Is Ronjan Sodhi capable of striking it rich this time?

Ronjan, I believe, has one of the best chances for a medal. He has had enough experience in the past few years to take him to the podium at this Olympics. I feel he has one of the best temperaments in the Indian shooting team. That is his strength. At the Olympics, the score of Preliminary rounds will matter a lot because the top six finalists will carry their scores into the finals. I have the confidence in Ronjan that he can overcome difference of small margins.

Manavjit came through a tough Asian Championships. How good are his chances?

Manav’s best performance came in 2006 (when he became the world champion). I would hope and pray that Manav in his preparations has hit the same zone that he did in 2006. It’s difficult but Manav has that ability to pull against the odds, as he did at the Asian Championships in Doha. What worries me is his thoughts wandering towards the other competitors who he feels may have an edge over him. If he can isolate himself and dig deep into his inner strengths, he is capable.

Among the other shooters do you see anybody springing a surprise?

I feel Vijay Kumar (rapid fire pistol) could be a dark horse. What goes in his favour are two things: He is extremely hungry and his hunger is backed by some good performances in the past. In fact, the new rule change in rapid fire goes to Vijay’s benefit. The qualifying scores are now not counted in the finals, everybody starts from scratch. Vijay can pull off an upset in such a situation.

Will London weather cause a problem?

The best Indian performance in an international event came in July and August in England when we won 20 gold medals in the Commonwealth Games in 2002. If we see closely, only two of the medal contenders are actually exposed to the weather. The rest are in absolutely enclosed or partially enclosed environment. August is the best weather of all in London with light winds and light showers at most as bad weather, which is not really disturbing for a shooter.

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