Rai Rises in All Directions As Shooters Continue to Impress

Abhishek Hore/ New Delhi
Rai Rises in All Directions As Shooters Continue to Impress

On and off, here and there, Indian shooters called the shots in 2014, but it was 'Pistol King' Jitu Rai who truly lived upto the sobriquet with a stunning display, leaving the other big guns gazing at the dizzy heights he touched in his annus mirabilis.

It was indeed a "year of wonders" for the unassuming shooter.

As a whole, India did not set the stage ablaze with their guns at the Glasgow Commonwealth and Incheon Asian Games or the various World Cups and World Championships, but they did just enough to maintain the consistent run that had begun at the turn of the century.

It would not be wrong to state that the work in progress continues for India in the Olympic sport of shooting.

The 27-year-old Rai was the standout performer by some distance though well-established names such as Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang and Manavjit Singh Sandhu, among others, too excelled on and off. And so was the younger lot like Ayonika Paul, Apurvi Chandela and Mohammad Asab to name a few.

Army marksman Rai though deserved to be at the top given the red-hot form he displayed through the year. If 2013 was about near misses, Rai won nearly everything in 2014, and he won them in style too, rewriting records on a few occasions.

What makes it even more special is that Rai achieved all these in his maiden year in competitive international shooting.

A historic gold at the World Cup, a record triumph at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, a silver medal at the World Championships that got him a quota place for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and then another gold at the Incheon Asian Games, Rai was on the centre of podium in some of the world's toughest international tournaments.

And he won them all in a span of few months. That he has just won the gold medal in the 58th National Shooting Championships is a fair indicator that the purple patch continues unabated.

No Indian has won six international medals in one calendar year but the unassuming Rai, who was not born in the country, remains modest about it and the nation takes great pride in his staggering feats.

The Lucknow boy returned with a medal from every competition he participated in this season - his first major international year.

The growth of shooting in India has been phenomenal in the last two decades, especially the last one that had seen the country's shooters win four Olympic medals, including a historic gold. Indian shooting has now got depth, variety and a number of fresh faces coming up every now and then.

From some of the toughest tournaments across the world, the Indians have brought home quite a few medals.

Though the numbers were not as awe-inspiring as they were in the 2010 Delhi edition, the Indian shooting contingent was impressive enough in bagging a total of 17 medals, including four gold, at the Commonwealth Games.

Then came the toughest of all tournaments - the World Championships in Granada, Spain - and as expected, it was Rai who outshone one and all with his terrific shooting that earned him a second-place finish and an early ticket to Rio Games.

There were a few near misses including Manavjit Singh Sandhu. But all in all, it was not a very good outing for the Indians in Granada as the country could win only one Olympic quota out of 64 in the tough continental tournament, which heralded the beginning of the long and arduous journey to Rio de Janeiro.

Bindra, the lone individual gold medallist for India in Olympics, capped off his remarkable career as a full-time marksman by winning two bronze at the Asian Games, and then announced to the world that he would only be a "hobby shooter".

The reserved marksman though, is still good enough to win medals as he just showed by winning a bronze in rifle prone event at the Nationals. The premier domestic tournament again, however, belonged to Rai, who has won two individual records with new marks.

National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president Raninder Singh called it a successful year.

"It's been a stupendous year for us. We stood first in the Commonwealth Games in terms of number of medals won. We were 10th by performance in the World Championships where we won a quota place for 2016 Rio Olympics, the first Indian to qualify for the event. In the Asian Games we finished third. So, we improved our medals tally compared to the previous editions," Raninder said.

Asked about Jitu, Raninder called the shooter phenomenal.

Away from the ranges, the NRAI chief created history by becoming the first Indian to become an elected member of the International Shooting Sport Federation's (ISSF) all-powerful Executive Committee.

Contesting his first election, Raninder garnered 22 out of 25 votes in the General Assembly meeting held at Munich, Germany earlier this month. For the first time in its 107-year history an Indian was elected a member of the global body representing the sport of Shooting.

He was also elected as the member of the Administrative Council of ISSF with 145 out of 293 votes.

Earlier this year, the 47-year-old Raninder was awarded the rare 'Diploma of Honour' by ISSF.

He says shooting in India has gone beyond iconic names, giving him hopes of achieving a top-five finish in the discipline in Rio and given the performances, it is hard to disagree with him.

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