New Delhi: Awarded the rare 'Diploma of Honour' by the International Shooting Sport Federation, NRAI president Raninder Singh says shooting in India has gone beyond iconic names, giving him hopes of achieving a top-five finish in the discipline at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Considering the high expectations, the Indian shooting team's performance in the just-concluded Incheon Asian Games, where it bagged nine medals, may have disappointed a few but Raninder has a different perspective.
"Our shooters' performance at the Asian Games has to be seen in a context. Last time (in Guangzhou 2010) we had eight medals while this time we have won nine. The number of medals has gone up. I can say that Indian shooting has gone beyond iconic names and we have got a good bench strength," Raninder told PTI.
"At the Asian Games, India came third in shooting behind China and Korea in number of medals. In the Commonwealth Games we were ranked one in number of medals."
While the National Rifle Association of India federation concentrated on building the bench strength in the last two years, it will focus on helping the shooters earn as many Rio Olympic quotas as possible in the next two.
"We had been focusing on building bench strength since the (2012) London Games. Now our focus will shift to Rio, earning as many quotas as possible. I would not be surprised if we surpass the numbers we had in the London Games.
"In the London Olympics we were eighth in shooting with two medals (one silver and one bronze); in Rio we can try for the fifth place," said Raninder.
The ISSF had last month bestowed Raninder with the 'Diploma of Honour' for his and the NRAI's contribution to the sport in India and abroad.
"This is given by the ISSF president and secretary general for contribution to shooting internationally. They give you a trophy and a medallion. This is a recognition of NRAI's contribution in international shooting and it's beyond individual honour," said Raninder.
Talking about last month's World Championships in
Granada, Spain, he said, "Eleven shooters in seniors missed the finals by .1 point. I am happy with the progress the team has made. If the Asiad was held after a month, nine (medals) would have been 15."
The 47-year-old Raninder was referring to the cramped international schedule that saw the Indian shooters arriving for the Asiad a day after the opening ceremony, as they were still competing in the World Championships.
"When Gurpal (Singh), Vijay (Kumar) and Pemba (Tamang) were shooting in Granada, the Asian Games opening already took place. The calendar was too cramped and this was a problem."
Asked about Jitu Rai, who has already won a record five international medals in a calendar year, Raninder called the Lucknow boy a phenomenon.
"Jitu is internationally a rare phenomenon. Look at the standard he has set. Jitu is beyond iconic at the moment."
Talking about the growth of shooting in India, Raninder praised all the stakeholders.
"The government has been very supportive, especially SAI and the Sports Ministry. They are open to new suggestions."
And as far as the athletes' preparations for future events were concerned, Raninder said "we will ensure that we fine tune the athletes".
"We will focus on the medical aspect and also ensure that the shooters are monitored better as far as physical issues are concerned. Especially in rifle and pistol shooting more orthopaedic issues are there," said Raninder.