Vijay, Narang bright spots in quiet year for shooters
New Delhi: The Olympic year had long been seen as the one that would provide Indian shooting its watershed moment but barring the success of Vijay Kumar and Gagan Narang at the London Games, 2012 almost bordered on being termed a downer.
There were huge expectations from the Indians even before they left for the British capital but the hype, perhaps, was a trifle misplaced as the biggest ever shooting contingent returned with just a silver and a bronze.
The unassuming Vijay provided the shooting squad with a silver lining when he clinched the white metal in the 25-metre rapid-fire pistol event, a few days before the mercurial Narang bagged a bronze medal in the 10-metre air rifle showpiece.
But Abhinav Bindra failed to reproduce the form that saw him win India`s first individual Olympic gold medal, in the Beijing Games four years ago.
The reserved rifleman from Zirakpur, Punjab could not even qualify for the final of his event -- the 10-metre air rifle.
The biggest letdown, however, has been Ronjan Sodhi. The world record holder and a former number world number one failed to live upto the expectations when he crashed out of the qualifiers of the double trap event.
Sodhi`s failure was a bitter pill to swallow considering the success he enjoyed over the past few years at top world level events, especially the Asian Games and the ISSF World Cups.
However, barely a month and a half later, leaving behind the London disappointment, Sodhi won a silver medal at the ISSF World Cup in Slovania.
The double trap ace would though agree that nothing comes closer to an Olympic medal for an athlete. Sodhi`s talent was never in doubt and his score of 191 in Slovania, which is three more than the London Games gold medal score, is proof enough of what he is capable of.
But moments of heartbreak turned to elation for India when Vijay and Narang finished on the podium at the Royal Artillery Barracks.
After the twin failures in Athens 2004 and Beijing, Narang was hoping to be third time lucky, and he deserved it more than anyone else this time around.
"I am happy to have won a medal, it`s off my chest now. But I was aiming for better. My coach, my mother was not happy," Narang admitted later.
Vijay, on the other hand, entered the signature event more as a darkhorse, but there was no doubting his ability to produce medal-winning score on any given day.
That he would finish as the best Indian shooter at the Games, ahead of more fancied names like Bindra, Sodhi and Narang, did seem a bit surprising initially, particularly to the uninitiated.
But by the time the Indians had flipped through the pages of newspapers over the first week of August, Vijay Kumar had well and truly arrived. He was filling reams of newsprint, his bytes flashing across news channels.
"I was well prepared for the Olympics," Vijay recalled when asked about his achievement.
He recently attained the number two ranking in his event but Vijay`s aim is to be at the top.
"I want to reach the top as soon as possible, and that will be possible if I do well in the World Cups next year, and I can say that I will try my level best," he had said after his ascent.
Apart from these two medal winning efforts, Joydeep Karmakar came up with a creditable performance in the 50m rifle prone, missing out on a bronze by a whisker to take the fourth position.
The success stories ended there as the other serious medal contenders fell by the wayside.
It was an utter disappointment considering that the country was expecting an unprecedented haul from the shooting ranges. The expectations were based on Indian shooters` performances at the international level over the last few years.
All in all, London proved that Indian shooters, despite having improved vastly over the years, lacked the confidence and the composure to do well in the biggest sporting show on earth.
Despite having impressive track records, they failed to hold on to their nerves and many of them got overawed by the occasion and succumbed to pressure at the world`s biggest sporting extravaganza.
The likes of Heena Sidhu and Shagun Choudhary could not do much in the women`s events. They were first timers and would be expected to do better in the next Games.
Choudhary, though, impressed in the second Asian shotgun championship, winning two silver medals.
But even in the recently held events in Patiala, including the concurrently organised Maharaja Yadavindra Singh memorial Indian Open Grand Prix, India`s overall showing wasn`t that great.
Even as the home shooters won quite a few silver and bronze, the gold medal was missing.
The Nationals will start tomorrow but the state of the Karni Singh Shooting Range, renovated at a huge cost before the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, leaves a lot to be desired.
It was reported not too long that quite a few firing posts in the 10, 25 and 50-metre ranges were non-functional, which threatened to postpone the event.
If India are to do better in the 2016 Olympics, the next two years will be very crucial as the phase will include the Commonwealth and Asian Games apart from the 2014 World Cups, which will offer quota places for the Rio Games.
The year also saw long-serving national coach Sunny Thomas offering his resignation to the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) after 19 years at the helm during which India won four Olympic medals in the sport.