<
>

Unheralded Sangram and Amanpreet bring twin-glory to India

Sangram Dahiya. ISSF

Indian shooting history was created on Friday at New Delhi's Karni Singh Shooting Range as two shooters won medals at the ISSF World Cup Final.

A bronze medal for Amanpreet Singh in the 50m pistol and a silver by Sangram Dahiya in the double trap shotgun took India's total medal haul to three overall -- the country's best-ever haul in what is the international shooting calendar's year-ending event.

Singh and Dahiya's medals were also historic in the sense that they would be the last an Indian would win in those events. In February this year, the international federation eliminated both the 50m pistol and the double trap from the list of events for the Olympic Games and the World Cups. The World Cup Final in Delhi was the last tournament of its nature to feature the two events.

However, neither Singh nor Dahiya are prepared to put down their respective weapons just yet. On Saturday evening, the two will board a flight to Australia, where they will be competing in the Commonwealth Shooting Championships.

While shooters from other countries have been slowly switching over to Olympic-recognized events, both Singh -- who also shoots the 10m air pistol, which is still an Olympic event -- and Dahiya have been focusing on what are expected to be obsolete events. Their goal is next year's Commonwealth Games in which the double trap and free pistol (50m pistol) remain medal events.

"Right now I shoot both air pistol and free pistol. I will continue shooting this for the next year at least. I had reduced training for air pistol over the last two months because I had qualified for World Cup Final," says Singh. His thoughts are echoed by Dahiya too. "Yes, other shooters are switching to single trap but I will be shooting double trap for the Commonwealth and Asian Games next year and also the World Championships," says the 27-year old.

There is a good reasoning involved for the decisions. With other international competitors already making the shift to Olympic events, competition in the double trap and free pistol is steadily declining. Both Dahiya and Singh had achieved limited international success until the decision was made to remove the two events from the Olympic program. Singh, 30, won his first World Cup medal in February this year, in what was his 21st World Cup, while Sangram had never won a World Cup medal until Friday.

In the World Cup Final, both shooters benefited. Singh had a poor score of 545 in qualifying but still made it to the final because there were only seven shooters in the competition. "It was very frustrating in qualifying. I wasn't getting my trigger release working smoothly. So I was a little upset. I kept making mistakes in getting the timing of my release going. Normally I shoot 560 and above, so to qualify with 545 was lucky," he admits.

Singh rode his luck in the final round too which saw exceptionally weak shooting across the board. He shot just six scores above ten out of the 22 shots he fired off. Gold medalist Damir Mikec shot just 9 in 24 shots.

Dahiya too profited from a relatively weak field with just four of the 11 participants even competing at the 2016 Olympics. However, this takes away little from Dahiya's strong run in the qualification where he finished first with a score of 144 out of a possible 150. Eventually, the Indian was left behind by a near-flawless Hu Binyuan of China. Binyuan -- the only Olympic medalist (2008 bronze) in the final -- set a new world record, shooting 79 out of a possible 80. Dahiya shot a commendable 76. "There's nothing to do when someone is shooting like that," he said.

While the medals are significant enough, they have additional significance for both Dahiya and Singh. "The last time I won a World Cup medal, my scores immediately started getting better because I felt better about myself. Winning a medal at a world level improves your confidence. I can say to myself, 'If you can win a medal at a World Cup, you can do it in other competitions too.' It keeps adding up," says Singh.

"I know I will have to focus entirely on the air pistol eventually. In the past, I would train for the free pistol in the morning and the air pistol in the afternoon sessions. Maybe in the future I will train for the air pistol in the morning when I am fresh. But I'm not worried about that. I feel the technique is similar for both events. It is mostly a matter of confidence," he adds.