The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) have named a 15-member-strong shooting contingent for the Tokyo Olympics.
This is how the squad looks -- Elavenil Valarivan, Apurvi Chandela, Divyansh Panwar, Deepak Kumar (10m rifle); Anjum Moudgil, Tejaswini Sawant, Sanjeev Rajput, Aishwary Tomar (50m 3P); Manu Bhaker, Yashaswini Deswal, Saurabh Chaudhary, Abhishek Verma (10m pistol); Bhaker and Rahi Sarnobat (25m pistol); Angad Vir Singh Bajwa, Mairaj Khan (Skeet).
ESPN details five talking points from this much-anticipated squad selection --
World No. 1 Valarivan makes the squad
It was always going to be hard to exclude Elavenil Valarivan from the Indian squad for the Tokyo Olympics. Not only is the 21-year-old the World No. 1 in the women's 10m air rifle category, she was also the highest-rated shooter in India as per the NRAI's own selection policy.
The policy document takes into account an average of five best scores in an international competition, starting with the Jakarta Asiad, while picking the final team. Prior to the World Cup in New Delhi, Valarivan had an average of 631.09 - nearly a point and a half clear of second-placed Apurvi Chandela (629.65). Valarivan's inclusion, though, comes at the cost of a place for Anjum Moudgil, at least in the individual category.
Although Moudgil had won the quota for India at the 2018 World Championships, her performance prior to the New Delhi WC -- she averaged 627.10 -- was clearly short of Valarivan. At the WC though, Moudgil had surpassed her teammates. She had shot a score of 629.6 in qualifying, nearly three points more than Valarivan, who shot 626.7.
While NRAI president Raninder Singh had earlier said that qualification scores in the New Delhi WC would be considered for team selection, it is clear that the committee felt that Valarivan -- winner of the 2019 World Cup finals -- was the better overall prospect.
Quota winner Chinki Yadav misses out
Although Chinki Yadav has been named as a reserve, it must have been a bit disappointing for her to not be named as the Indian representative in the 25m pistol event. Especially after she had first won an Olympic quota in 2019 and subsequently won a WC gold in New Delhi -- beating out Manu Bhaker and Rahi Sarnobat, both of whom are included in the team.
However, the decision to go with Bhaker and Sarnobat appears justified on the basis of their performance under the NRAI selection policy. Bhaker had been averaging 584.25 prior to the selection trials for the World Cup and then shot an average of 586 in the trials themselves. These would be enough to place her in contention for a finals appearance at any high-level event. For Sarnobat, the same scores were 588 and 583.50. Yadav's average scores in contrast were 579.06, while she shot an average of 583.50 in the selection trials.
Yadav's best hopes for making the Olympic squad were if the selection committee favoured her finals performances (She'd beaten Bhaker in five straight finals) but eventually Bhaker's higher scores in qualifying -- which would give her a better chance of making the Olympic finals -- likely got her the nod.
Backing proven shooters to come good
Prior to the selection committee meeting, one of the subjects worth pondering was how much of a say past performances would have against more recent results.10m rifle shooters Chandela and Deepak Kumar are both proven shooters with Chandela having won an Olympic quota at the World Championships, and Kumar claiming his quota by winning a bronze at the 2019 Asian Championships.
However, both shooters are enduring dips in performances. Chandela had been facing equipment issues (caused ironically due to an improved fitness regime) while Kumar was struggling following a return from surgery. As a result, both Chandela and Kumar performed poorly at this year's WC and also at the selection trials for the same event that were held in January and February. Chandela averaged only 625.79 in the trials and scored just 622.8 at the World Cup. Kumar averaged just 627.52 in the selection trials and only shot a 626.4 in the World Cup.
While they were struggling, younger shooters seemed to have done better. In the men's 10m rifle event, for instance, Arjun Babuta not only averaged 630.5 in the selection trials but also shot a 631.8 at the World Cup. Eventually, though, the selection committee have backed the experienced senior pair of Chandela and Kumar.
Heavy workload for Bhaker
Selected to represent India in three events -- women's 10m pistol, 10m pistol mixed team event and women's 25m pistol -- Manu Bhaker could end up becoming India's most successful Olympic athlete in a single Games.
Her average qualifying score in the women's 10m pistol event over the last two years has been an impressive 584 -- round about the mark that would help her make an Olympic final. Her partnership with Saurabh Chaudhary has been perhaps the most dominant in the mixed team event -- they've won five straight gold medals at the World Cup. A concern, though, is that while her qualifying scores have been routinely high in the 25m pistol event, her performance in the final hasn't always matched up.
Bhaker will now have to find a way to manage the pressure of shooting three different events over five days at the Olympics.
Unlike 2016, no swap for shotgun
NRAI chief Singh had earlier made it clear that there would be no swap of quotas in favour of the shotgun team. However, in 2016, Sanjeev Rajput had seen his quota in the 50m 3 position event handed to Manavjit Sandhu in the men's trap event. That has not happened this time. The trap event - once a marquee event in Indian shooting -- will not feature a single Indian representative for the first time since the 1992 Games in Barcelona.