Shooters aim for bagful of medals in Commonwealth Games

An expectant home crowd and the pressure of living upto their showings in the previous two editions of the Games are the reasons why Indian shooters might just find it difficult this time around, feels Thomas.

India won 27 medals, including 16 gold, in the last edition of the Games in Melbourne, and 24 medals in the 2002 Manchester Games, and according to Thomas, it takes years and years of rigorous training to do one better.

"We know that India's best chance of winning maximum number of medals is shooting but the rising expectations put a lot of pressure on our shooters. We won 24 medals in Manchester but it took us four years to make it 27 and it will take an effort to make it 28 this time," Thomas said.

"But according to the existing selection policy, this is the best team we have, so we are confident of bettering our Melbourne performance," Thomas said in a thinly-veiled reference to Olympic silver-medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's last-minute pull-out from the Games.

Rathore skipped the Games selection trials citing irregularities in selection procedure, but Thomas, instead of delving on the controversy over Rathore's pull-out, preferred to stay positive.

"From five medals - three gold and two silver - in 1994 to 24 in Manchester and then 27 in Melbourne, it's a huge achievement. It's difficult when you look at those numbers but it should not be a big problem, winning more medals than the previous two editions," Thomas said.

But shooting, like any other sport, can throw up unexpected results.
"That's what. The performance of the shooters in these sort of events depends a lot on mental condition, physical condition, atmosphere, surroundings and their performance on the given day," Thomas, who has been involved with the team for the past 17 years, told PTI.

To elaborate the uncertain nature of the sport, Thomas said, "Some shooters, who were expected to do well in the last World Championships in Germany, didn't live upto the billing, while there were some less fancied ones who shot their best personal scores in the tournament. That's where the surroundings and circumstances come into play. That's why, I say, it's not just about luck."

In Munich, Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra could not even qualify for the finals of his pet 10m Air Rifle event but a comparatively unfancied Tejaswini Sawant became the first Indian woman shooter to become a world champion when she shot gold in the 50m Rifle Prone event with a world-record equalling score.

However, despite the vagaries of the sport, Indian shooters are expected to do better than than the rest, and it is not for nothing, Thomas agreed.

"Almost everyone won medals in the last edition. It's pretty similar this time too, with all of our shooters in best possible shape," he said."In Gagan Narang and Abhinav Bindra, we have two top class performers."Narang is a world record holder - he scored 600 out of 600 during his unparallelled record-winning feat - in air rifle event

"Going by the records of these two champion shooters, we should easily win medal in air rifle, but then again, the unpredictability factor comes in," Thomas cautioned.
Narang will also compete in the 50m prone and 50m 3 position events apart from 10m air rifle with Bindra. He will be the only shooter to participate in all three rifle events.

As far as rapid fire is concerned, India has two of the best shooters in the business in Vijay Kumar and Gurpreet Singh.

"Both are in the top 15 in world rankings, but rapid fire is a tricky thing. You get just five seconds to take five shots, at five different targets. So, nobody can predict till the shots are over," Thomas explained.

Sawant will lead the women's contingent in the quadrennial extravaganza.
Thanks to their rich medal hauls in the last two editions of the Games, the pedigree is what has left Thomas concerned at the moment.

"That's worrying, but what's heartening is that the standard has improved over the years. With the Games' steering committee looking after our needs -- range, swimming pool, gymnasium and administration -- I can vouch that the training has been much better this time around," he said.

"But, as I have said earlier, the whole thing may depend on the performance of the shooters on the given day," Thomas, who will be arriving here on September 25, provided the Games village and the ranges are ready, said

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