Indian shooters, the country’s biggest medal hopes at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, ended seven months of frustrating wait due to Covid-19 restrictions as a two-month national camp for the core group finally began at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Ranges on Thursday.
It will effectively be a return to basics to start with for the contingent of 15 that has qualified for the rescheduled Olympics and was near peak form when the pandemic brought their training to a halt. The need to draw up, and then adhere to, various health protocols had held up the start of the camp.
“The focus will be on fundamentals,” said former shooting ace Samaresh Jung, pistol coach of the senior team. “We’ve been assisting the athletes online. But how and what all they have been doing needs to be examined in coming days. Thereafter, we will structure the programme according to individuals.”
The campers have gone into a bio-secure bubble. For the safety of shooters and coaching staff, outsiders won’t be allowed to interact with them. Even officials operating the ranges must maintain social distancing. “The ranges were sanitised an hour before we came for training,” said rifle coach Manoj Kumar.
The morning session started at 8.30 and continued till 12.45. The training arena will be out of bounds for non-campers. An hour’s physical training session in the evening will be held at the hotel where the shooters have been lodged. “An area has been designated for the shooters. Let’s see how it work for us,” Kumar said.
The 2018 Jakarta Asian Games 10m air pistol champion Saurabh Chaudhary, women’s pistol ace Manu Bhaker and rifle shooters Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela are among the top shooters in the core group who have reported for the camp. Rifle shooters Elavenil Valarivan and Gayathri Nithyanadam are yet to join because of personal reasons. Foreign coaches attached to the contingent left on leave recently and they are expected to join soon.
Anish Bhanwala, a highly-rated pistol shooter from Haryana, was delighted to be back in the camp. “To prevent minute flaws creeping in, it’s always good to train under the supervision of experts,” he said.
India had earned 15 quota places for the Olympics, including two in shotgun, in the qualifying cycle that ended in November 2019. Bhanwala is expected to get a 16th quota place for India on the basis of his global ranking in 25m rapid fire pistol. He is ranked in the top 15.
After the qualification phase, International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) allots berths in an event in which the national federation has not achieved a quota. This will be allotted to an individual shooter on the basis of his or her world ranking. This spot is for individuals, unlike the qualification quota that is for the country and allows a federation to switch a shooter if needed.
In July, Bhanwala shifted from Karnal to Faridabad to stay close to the ranges when they were opened by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) for the core group of shooters shortlisted by National Rifle Association of India (NRAI).