Shooting: Decoding India's success at the New Delhi World Cup

Left to right: Manu Bhaker, Chinki Yadav and Rahi Sarnobat in action during the 25m pistol final at the New Delhi World Cup. Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The ISSF Shooting World Cup in New Delhi officially ended on Monday, with India finishing with 30 medals -- 15 gold, nine silver and six bronze.

Here are our takeaways from the event:

India topped the medals table with almost four times the number of medals of second-placed USA. Was it really that good?

While the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi was India's best ever in terms of medals won, the overall haul was bloated by the introduction of non-Olympic events and reduced participation due to the pandemic. Eight of India's 15 gold medals came in team events which aren't part of the Olympic program and, as such, did not see a lot of participation.

Many of the teams that took part in New Delhi viewed the competition as a way to earn ranking points that would help them with Olympic qualification.

"Competing in tournaments away from home costs us time and resources. We can't justify staying extra days after we have completed our purpose at this tournament," said Albano Pero, coach of the Italian trap shotgun team, which returned home a couple of days after winning the men's trap event -- in which Italy has yet to earn an Olympic quota.

The effects of early departure could be seen across events.

For instance, the 50m rifle 3 positions mixed team event -- in which India won gold and bronze -- saw the participation of just eight teams. Two of them were from India. The men's team event for the same discipline saw the participation of just the India and USA teams, after the Hungarian team pulled out due to infighting. The 25m rapid fire pistol mixed team event had just two Indian teams in contention.

So was there anything to take away from the performances?

While India's performances need to be judged in the context of low participation, coaches say they were looking at the competition more as a way to understand the performance level of Indian shooters, who (apart from the shotgun squad) had last competed at the World Cup Finals in 2019 and were undoubtedly a bit rusty.

"Going into the competition, we knew that scores would be low across the board, not just for Indian shooters, since everyone was coming back from a long break that you couldn't prepare for. That's what we saw," says pistol coach Samaresh Jung.

But Jung also notes that what was important was that Indian performances hadn't dropped precipitously since their last competitions. This is best seen by going through qualification scores that don't depend on the overall competition.

Saurabh Chaudhary, a two-time gold medal winner in the individual 10m pistol category and probably India's strongest bet at the Tokyo Olympics, shot a 587 in qualifying - equalling his best in international competition. Abhishek Verma, who also won an Olympic quota, shot a 583, which would have been more than enough to qualify him for the last Olympic final.

In the 10m air rifle event, World No. 1 Divyansh Panwar shot a 629.1, which would have made the last Olympic final. Arjun Babuta, who isn't even likely to go to the Olympics, did even better shooting a 631.8. Among the women, Anjum Moudgil shrugged off poor form to qualify second with a total of 629.6. Sanjeev Rajput's 1172 in extremely tough conditions in the men's 50m rifle 3 positions event was also a high-quality score that would have placed him in contention in the 2016 Games.

What was the best performance? The biggest surprise?

There were few outright surprises but Chinki Yadav's win in the 25m pistol event was a significant one. There were only 22 participants, but Yadav was under some pressure because although she had won the Olympic quota, there were doubts over whether she would be sent to the Tokyo Olympics. Her scores in the selection trials for the World Cup and indeed over the course of her career had been lower than Manu Bhaker, who is seen as the more naturally-talented shot. In New Delhi, although Yadav's qualifying score of 580 was just short of making an elite final, she beat two high-level shooters in Bhaker and Rahi Sarnobat.

Another surprise came in the men's 50m rifle 3 positions event through eventual winner Aishwary Pratap Tomar. Under windy and rainy conditions, the 18-year-old didn't do well in qualifying but more than made up for it in the final, beating three-time World Cup winner and current World No. 1 Istvan Peni of Hungary in a nerveless final. It's a win that will serve as a huge morale booster for Tomar, who has also won an Olympic quota in his event.

And who were below expectations?

At the end of the tournament, coaches only have a couple of concerns, the biggest of which is the dip in performance of former World No. 1 Apurvi Chandela.

The 26-year-old who competed in Rio was at the top of her game in 2019 but a change in fitness regime, subsequent weight loss and the inability to find body-specific equipment has seen her scores drop over the last few months.

Although coaches weren't expecting her to finish among the medals, her qualifying score of 622.8 was the lowest score she's shot under the 60-shot qualifying system. For the moment, coaches are trusting her pedigree and keeping faith in her. "It's a bit of a concern because there are only four months to go to the Olympics. But it's mostly an equipment issue, so once that is cleared up, I think Apurvi will be shooting her old scores within a month," says national coach Deepali Deshpande.

Who's going to Tokyo?

Although India has won a record 15 quotas for the Tokyo Olympics, the composition of the Indian squad is still not known That is because Olympic quotas are not won by individuals but for the country.

The squad has still not been named although NRAI president Raninder Singh has said a meeting to decide the same would be conducted in the first week of April. The NRAI has a selection policy to determine the squad for the Olympics and although the World Cup wasn't originally meant to play a role in determining the team, the fact that the Games have been postponed by a year has meant that it is likely to play some role in determining recent form, at the least.

However, apart from Chandela's dip in form, there were no major performance spikes that are likely to sway the selection committee away from athletes who have won the quotas to begin with.

What's the next big day for the shooters?

The next World Cup on the international calendar -- scheduled for April in Changwon, South Korea -- has been postponed indefinitely because of the pandemic. Indian shooters might have been expected to take part in the national championships but that event too has been cancelled for this year.

The next possible event for Indian rifle and pistol shooters to take part in might be the ISSF World Cup in Baku, scheduled to be held in June, but the fate of that tournament is still uncertain as is that of the next Shotgun World Cup to be held in Italy in May. As such, the New Delhi World Cup might be the last competition for India's shooting team until the Tokyo Olympics.