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Shooters continue to impress, 9 in Olympics

New Delhi: The success story that started at the turn of the millennium continued for Indian shooting in the year 2011 as well with nine marksmen making the cut for the London Olympics. While Gagan Narang and Hariom Singh had booked their tickets to London last year itself, seven others emerged as medals prospects in the last one year.

With the sport`s profile headed north, the numbers surely are not going to stop at nine as more quota places will be up for grabs in the Asian Shooting Championship in January next year.

Beijing Olympics gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, Guangzhou Asian Games gold winner Ronjan Sodhi, Sanjeev Rajput, Hariom Singh, Vijay Kumar, Rahi Sarnobat, Annu Raj Singh and Shagun Chowdhary are the ones who have already started harbouring hopes of winning medals at the world`s biggest sporting extravaganza.

One of the bright prospects for a medal in the London Games, double trap marksman Sodhi, reached yet another milestone in his decorated career, as he was ranked number one in the world.

The irrepressible Sodhi also clinched the yellow metal in the World Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates for the second straight time.

Conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the highest sporting honour in the country, Gagan spent a lot of time fine-tuning his craft with the hope that it will take him to the pinnacle in another seven months` time.

Gagan, the first Indian to qualify for the 2012 Games, will participate in three events in London — 10m Air Rifle, 50m Rifle Prone and 50m Rifle 3 Position — and the affable Hyderabad-based shooter feels this will maximise his chances of realising his Olympic dream.

"It (three events) gives me more chances to win medals and I feel I am a decent multi-event shooter. I hope it would be third time lucky for me," he says.

A multiple Commonwealth Games gold medallist and holder of numerous world records, London will be Gagan`s third shot at the Olympics after Athens and Beijing.

Recommended for for the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, by the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), the country`s only individual Olympic gold medallist, Bindra, qualified as he won one of the three quota places on offer in the men`s air rifle in the World Cup in Munich.

According to Bindra, Beijing is history and he is now focused on London. "London is a new day, I can`t transfer my past. I don`t remember the past…It is over. I want to win at the Olympics, as simple as that," he had said not long ago.

Rajput got a quota place in 50m rifle – 3 positions after a score of 1176 points at the World Championships in Changwon where MQS (Minimum Qualification Score) was 1135.

Vijay Kumar reserved his berth in 25m rapid fire pistol event after scoring 584 points to better MQS of 560 in the World Championships in Fort Benning, where Sarnobat in women`s 25m pistol event and Annu Raj Singh in women`s 10m air pistol event also reserved their Olympic berths.

The upcoming tournaments, including the Asian Championships, will provide shooters such as Manavjit Sandhu, Mansher Singh and Anjali Bhagwat opportunities to earn quota places for London.

A total of 78 Indian shooters will be vying for quota places in the Asian meet in Doha. "35 quota places will be up for grabs and we are expecting at least 5-6. That will make it 15-16 and that I think is a very good number," said NRAI adviser Baljit Sethi.

There was a change of guard at the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), with Raninder Singh succeeding acting president Avtar Singh Sethi at the top.

Olympic qualification was the goal for many of the country`s sportspersons this year and leading that quest was the shooters.

"We had a very good year. In fact the outing at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002 turned the tide and the shooters haven`t looked back since then. There was a time when we would finish at the bottom. But then in 2002 (Manchester), 2006 (Melbourne) and 2010 (Delhi) we were number one. I am sure we will win not just one but more medals in London," Sethi said.

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