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Bad Luck, Poor Form or Lack of Edge? The Case of the Missing Indian Shooting Stars in Tokyo

While Manu Bhaker’s loss was due to sheer bad luck, with her pistol breaking down mid competition, and Saurabh Chaudhary did give a good account on debut, the rest of the shooting contingent are yet to impress at the Tokyo Olympics so far.
Manu Bhaker Tokyo Olympics

A disappointed Manu Bhaker after failing to make the final of the women’s 10 metre air pistol event at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.

“Circuit malfunctioning” cost Manu Bhaker dear in the 10m air pistol for women. That’s exactly how her father and National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) official Ramkishan Bhaker described the crisis that led to Manu’s unfortunate exit in Tokyo on Sunday, July 25.

Midway through the qualifying rounds, the teenage sensation realised her pistol’s cocking lever had broken down. It happened at a crucial moment when Manu was reportedly left with 44 shots in 55 minutes. 

All her plans went topsy-turvy – when Manu finally returned after getting her pistol repaired and checking it out in the practice arena, she had a little over half an hour to complete her remaining shots. With that her dream of a podium finish vanished.

Click | For More Coverage of the Tokyo Olympics From Newsclick Sports

The 19-year-old finished in 12th position with a score of 575. Her compatriot, Yashaswini Singh Deswal, another first timer at the Games, stayed one rank behind her with 574. A creditable show nonetheless considering their debutant status and age.

As Tokyo approached, it was repeatedly said that the 15 strong contingent of shooters could be India’s biggest medal hopes. Considering the performance of Indian shooters in the first two days, the expectations haven’t been fulfilled.

But then, a couple of things have to be kept in mind. Firstly, the Tokyo show has entered its second day only. And, to be fair, the pistol shooters have done their bit though a medal has remained elusive. Like Manu, the other teenager, Saurabh Chaudhary ended commendable seventh in the 10m air pistol, that too after topping in the qualifiers. Saurabh was touted as the biggest medal hope; he couldn’t make it, but what he accomplished in his first Olympics was an unmistakable sign of his talent.

Now, what about the much-hyped and much talked about men and women from the rifle arena? Given their performance in the first two days, it seems a “circuit malfunctioning” of a different kind has hit the rifle stars. Many of them went to Tokyo with highly impressive world rankings and a big haul of medals from a series of world level meets. Pre-Tokyo predictions often claimed it was only a matter of time before they bagged medals. Some of the scores these stars registered in Tokyo were not good enough for the Nationals.

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The disappointment often gives rise to anger and curiosity to know the reasons behind it. Will some people now try to dig deep into how the last phase of training in Croatia went about? Or how right it was to almost finalise the team long before the delayed Olympics could actually be played? 

Well, any such query could be labelled as an attempt to find fault and act wise in hindsight. True, but checks and balances are necessary in every walk of life. Otherwise, how can one explain what happened in the first two days! 

World No. 1 Elavenil Valarivan and world-record holder Apurvi Chandela finished well outside the qualifying spots in the women’s 10m air rifle qualification round on the opening day. The next day was no better as Divyansh Singh Panwar and Deepak Kumar failed to go beyond the qualifiers in men’s segment of the same event.

Panwar, the winner of the World Cup Final from 2019, finished a disappointing 32nd – it was beyond reach once the world No. 2 managed just 102.7 in his first series. Deepak, the Asian Games silver medalist, managed 624.7 to finish 26th.

Five years ago, when shooters returned empty handed from the 2016 Rio Olympics, a committee was formed by the National Rifle Association of INdia (NRAI) to probe the debacle. Abhinav Bindra was initially made the head of the committee but he wisely recused himself since he was part of the squad.

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The report of the committee notwithstanding, Bindra had an important thing to say those days. A probe would never be needed if the right people were appointed at the right places, said the 2008 Beijing gold medallist. No one is saying things would go that far because many genuinely believe that a few Indian shooters would have their names on the list of medallists by the end of the Games. Saurabh and Manu are there for the mixed event, Rahi Sarnobat, too, has her event left. 

At the same time, is it really necessary to turn aggressive without provocation? When an Olympian tweets: “(Sic) Stop judging athletes on numbers coz maybe that’s the only thing u can understand. Start understanding performance,” then one start wondering the whole point of hyping them for medals (and thereby for numbers) in the first place. It also leaves some puzzled. Is there a new method instituted to award medals in the Olympics without looking at numbers? Frankly, no one has blamed anyone so far – there is no need to fight with shadows.     

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