New Delhi: Indian guns are booming loud and clear and the wagers are already on in the shooting circles on the number of medals India is going to win at the 2012 Olympics.
The cause for the excitement is that seven shooters have booked their ticket for the London Games and more are on course to be there at the ranges at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, southeast London.
With a dozen marksmen expected to make it to London, it is going to be a record Indian line-up at the Olympics -- a testimony to the shooting boom in the country, triggered by Rajyavardhan Rathore`s silver at the Athens Olympics seven years ago followed by the country`s first-ever Olympic gold Abhinav Bindra won in Beijing in 2008.
National coach Sunny Thomas knows it is a tough task for the shooters, but he is confident they are ready for Olympic challenge.
"Our boys are doing well in international competitions and their scores have been encouraging. They have done well in the World Cups, where competition is very tough. Consistency will be key for them in London," he said.
The London rush began with rifle shooters, world-record holder Gagan Narang and Hari Om Singh, booking their berths at the World Championships in Germany last year. Another rifleman, Sanjeev Rajput, and shot-gun exponent Ronjan Singh Sodhi followed suit by winning gold and silver in the South Korea and Beijing World Cups this year.
Next is the turn of pistol shooters, Vijay Kumar, Annu Raj Singh and Rahi Sarnobat. They grabbed three quota places in last month`s World Cup at Fort Benning, the U.S. Army Post in Atlanta.
Sodhi, double world record holder, said that the impressive showing by Indian shooters is a result of the world class training they have received in the last three years for the Commonwealth Games.
"The government has supported the shooters in the last three years in all possible ways and now we are seeing the results. I am hoping that 18 shooters will qualify for the Olympics," the World No.2 double trap shooter, who has emerged as India`s best medal prospect in London said.
The government was quick to acknowledge the shooters` potential by earmarking Rs.43 crore for their Olympic training.
With at least eight more qualifying events lined up in the next seven months and some top sharpshooters like Abhinav Bindra, Rathore, Samresh Jung, Anjali Bhagwat and Tejaswini Sawant in the queue India can expect to get another five-six quota slots.
Indian shooters will also stand to benefit with the arrival of famed Russian pistol coach Alexander Melentiev, whose world record of 581 in the 1980 Moscow Olympics is still untouched.
Melentiev, who was with the US team before coming to India, was offered a short-term role before the Commonwealth Games, but he refused as he wanted a longer tenure. The Russian finally agreed to take up the assignment when the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) approached him during last month`s World Cup in the U.S.
Sodhi, who was the lone gold-winning shooter at the Guangzhou Asian Games, said: "I have been shooting consistently and I hope to maintain it."
Sodhi has put behind the heart break of missing the Beijing Games, despite setting two world records en route his gold-winning performance in the 2008 Belgrade World Cup final.
A fortnight ago world No.8 Vijay Kumar, a subedar in the army, showed why he is counted among the world`s best in the 25 metres rapid-fire event by winning the seventh quota place by taking the silver at the World Cup at Fort Benning.
Vijay, who today is among the best in the world, set a record of 586 at the nationals, while the Beijing Olympic gold went for 580 and the world championship gold 585.
Both Rahi and Anisa Sayyed surpassed Olympic scores during last month`s World Cup. The 20-year-old Rahi came up with a stunning performance when she shot a final score of 207.7 to win the 25-metre sport pistol bronze for women. Rahi`s final 20 shots were all perfect 10s, which even Beijing Olympic champion Yi Siling of China couldn`t manage en route to her 2008 gold with a score of 208.4.
Anisa, who beat Rahi to win the Commonwealth Games gold, failed to make a podium finish, but her scores in the 25-metre event were encouraging. Anisa shot 587, which was higher than Yi Siling`s Olympic gold winning qualification score of 585.
Annu Raj won the silver in the air pistol in world cup firing a phenomenal 389 in qualification and 486.6 in the final which is just 0.2 point off the World Championship gold winning effort of 486.8 by Serbian Zorana Arunovic.