Indian shooters to begin medal hunt from tomorrow

London: High on confidence, Indian shooters will begin their Olympic campaign at the Royal Artillery Barracks here tomorrow amid expectation that the marksmen would be able to deliver the goods and fetch a few medals.

Though records and current form have raised hopes of a good number of medals from the shooting arena, it is still a tough ask for the Indians to ensure that their medal quest bears fruit.

The spotlight would largely be on Beijing Games gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, Ronjan Sodhi and Gagan Narang, all of whom are being touted as serious medal contenders though the other shooters are also quite talented and can pull off a surprise or two on their day.

For the first time ever, India has fielded 11 shooters unlike the eight participants in the Beijing Games, which only reflects the improved show by the marksmen in recent years.

The huge hype surrounding the shooters will also put more pressure on the likes of Sodhi, Bindra and Narang as they are well aware that there is no room for errors at this stage.

While Bindra trained in Germany and appears to have regained his form, Narang is also in his zone after having performed consistently in recent times under coach Stanislav Lapidus.

Narang will be seen in action in three events in London — 10m Air rifle is his main event where he will challenge Bindra and China`s Zhu Qinan.

For the 33-year-old Sodhi, this is the best chance for him to achieve Olympic glory. Defending champion Walton Eller has failed to qualify for the Games but USA has exchanged a quota to accommodate him. Another American world number 1 and world champion Joshua Richmond would also pose a major challenge to Sodhi.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won silver in Athens and Sodhi, the only Indian in the top-ten ranking on 10th, will be at least hoping to repeat that feat if not improve upon it.

Ever since Bindra shot an incredible 700.5 to clinch the men`s 10m Air Rifle gold in Beijing, the shooting scene in the country has changed quite a bit and the young generation of shooters have a lot of self belief.

By regularly winning medals at various international competitions, including the World Cups and World Championships, the Indian shooters have become a force to reckon with at the world stage, and London will provide them with an opportunity to prove their worth.

"They have been training hard for long periods and have taken part in a lot of competitions. The effort is to bring them to peak form by the time we go into the Olympics. That is what matters and not what we have done in the past. Previous outings don`t matter," India`s coach Sunny Thomas said.

Vijay Kumar will start India`s campaign when he takes to the range for his the 10-metre Air Pistol event tomorrow, a day after the opening ceremony.

Vijay had a good outing in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, winning three gold and one silver medal. He then went on to win two bronze at the Guangzhou Asian Games. Vijay also has two silver medals in last three years at ISSF World Cups.

Heena Sidhu and Annuraj Singh will be seen in action the next day in the women`s 10-metre Air Pistol event.

July 30 could turn out to be a big day for India as Bindra and Narang will be representing the country in their pet event, 10-metre Air Rifle. Two days later, Sodhi will look to hit the bull`s eye in the double trap event.

First-timer Olympian Sodhi, who had trained in Italy along with compatriots Manavjit Singh Sandhu and Shagun Choudhary, will head to London with two world titles under his belt.

Then there are also Sanjeev Rajput, Joydeep Karmakar and Rahi Sarnobat — all capable of producing scores good enough to get medals.