India completed the first shooting World Cup of 2017 with a haul of five medals, including a gold, two silvers and as many bronzes. In addition, the pair of Heena Sidhu and Jitu Rai placed first in the 10m pistol mixed team event while Angad Singh Bajwa finished third in the mixed team skeet event. Overall this result appears to be India's best return at the World Cup level. However, if you look carefully, the glass is only half full.
A number of senior Indian athletes who had been out of the reckoning used the World Cup to announce that they were far from finished. Pooja Ghatkar won her maiden World Cup medal in the women's 10m pistol while Tejaswini Sawant, competing in her first World Cup in three years, reached the finals of the women's 50m rifle three position event. Amanpreet Singh was perhaps the comeback story of the tournament. Competing in his 21st world cup, Singh led almost all the way from qualifying before being pipped by Jitu in the last series of the final. "It's a matter of self-belief. You could tell an athlete they are good enough to win a medal at the world level, but it's only when they do it for the first time that they actually believe it," says Vaibhav Agashe, a sports psychologist who works with Ghatkar.
Rise of the youngsters
Followers of the sport would be heartened by the strong performances that came from shooters at the start of their careers. Deepak Kumar finished fifth in the 10m air rifle event. Competing in the event that Abhinav Bindra made famous, Kumar showed few nerves in the final. "I'll get better next time. I'll get that medal soon," he said. Neeraj Kumar reached the final on his World Cup debut in the rapid fire pistol -- an event in which India won Olympic silver in 2012. Shapath Bhardwaj drew praise from shotgun coach Marcello Dradi after finishing 10th. "This was the performance of the day for me. He is 15. At that age he is so good. He is definitely going to improve and do well in the future," Dradi said.
Dependence on an individual
Remove Jitu from the picture and India's medal haul looks far more modest. He claimed two out of the five medals India won. "Barring Jitu, the performance was not great. Only Jitu is following the correct training method with a coach looking after him," said Jaspal Rana, coach with the junior team. Indeed several seniors included in the team performed below expectations. Neither Gagan Narang nor Sidhu made the finals of their events. Indeed, a few athletes complained of being neglected, with the bulk of the coaching attention focused on Jitu. None of this was Jitu's fault however, as he became the most successful Indian shooter at the World Cups with a total of eight medals in all.
"A World Cup medal is a World Cup medal but it is important to see the context in which this World Cup was being held," says Rana. This tournament was played under the uncertainty over the future of some of the events the athletes were competing in. For instance, three of India's medals -- gold and silver in the men's 50m pistol and silver in the men's double trap -- came in sports that have been recommended to be removed from the Olympic programme for Tokyo. With this being only the first tournament of what is a non-Olympic year and no quota places on offer, there was little at stake in the event. Several of the world's best shooters opted to skip the tournament. This meant that qualification scores were set rather low in several disciplines. "We shot quite well in the finals but when we shoot at bigger tournaments we will find that we have to improve our qualification scores. A good test of where we stand will come in the World Cup Final that will also be held in India," says Rana.