“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown enormous respect, and shooters cannot complain of anything”: Raja Randhir Singh

Image: OCA

Twenty Indian shooters winning quota places for the country at the Paris Olympics is a massive achievement. With Palak Gulia the latest, in air pistol, to fire her way to a quota place in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, it does appear that Indian shooters are in the mood and mode similar to what we have seen in old Wild West movies featuring Clint Eastwood.

These shooters, both men and women, have mostly done very well in the last two years. But that does not mean they are going to win India a handful of medals at the Olympics. Yes, after failures at two Olympic Games, 2016 in Rio and in Tokyo three years ago, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has pushed even the youngsters. Many have delivered, though who makes the final cut for Paris will be known only after the trials, four in all, in New Delhi and Bhopal in April and May.

First things first. What is it that has resulted in India winning 20 quotas from a maximum possible 24? For those who think India winning 22 medals at the Asian Games in Hangzhou was the defining moment, that’s not true. The process had begun earlier, with the first quota places from marksmen like Rudrankksh Patil and Bhownish Mendiratta coming long before.

RevSportz spoke to Raja Randhir Singh, the grand old man of Indian sport, who has seen Indian shooting closely. He comes from the 1960s and ’70s generation, when he had to play second fiddle to the late Maharaja Karni Singh of Bikaner, the king of trap shooting. Karni Singh was a legend, and this generation of shooting lovers would do well to read how he won a silver medal in 1962 in Cairo, after shooting for almost three days. It included light, rain and poor visibility. The whole journey of winning a World Championship medal has been captured in his own book, “From Rome to Moscow, Memoirs Of An Olympic Shooter.” It may not be great prose, but Karni Singh, who himself edited a magazine called Enlite decades ago, loved writing. As a kid decades ago, this writer had the opportunity to meet Karni Sahab in New Delhi at his residence. He had that royal demeanour but was full of killer instinct as a shooter.

“Kannan Bhai, Maharaja Karni was a legend,” said Randhir, himself an established trap shooter who won gold in the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games and is now president of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). “Shooting has changed so much now. The depth and variety is massive in India. These kids are fearless. I won’t say ruthless. And the best part I have seen, they are not talking of pressure. Yes, there is pressure and there will be pressure in this sport, but they chose it.”

Indeed, double-bore shooting was once the preserve of royalty. Not any longer. Yes, Randhir’s own daughter, Rajeshwari Riya Kumari, has also qualified for Paris and will have to go through trials later. “It’s easy to be critical of sport,” said Randhir. “India has done well in shooting, and in this Paris Olympics, we hope for the best. So much has changed. You name it, the shooters get it. If you look at trap, just imagine, they are getting over 35,000 cartridges per year plus no shortage of clay birds. The shooters get everything from the SAI (Sports Authority of India), and can also get from the NRAI, and import on their own.


“Compared to a different era, shooters struggled to get ammunition, other than air pistol/rifle. Today, ammunition, pistol, rifle, spare weapons, and even setting up an indoor range at home for 10m has become so easy. I will compliment this Government, and the way our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown enormous respect to athletes and made anything available for them. This is such a brilliant thing, the shooters cannot complain of anything.

“Coaching camps, coaches, major international competitions and our own ranges in New Delhi and Bhopal – the infrastructure is in place. Yes, the trials coming up will be a hard exercise, but that’s the way it is. Just show you are capable of dealing with the pressure. ”
Now almost 78, Randhir can still shoot a 22, if not 25, straight at the trap range if he picks up a rifle. Shooting from memory or having gone through it for years, the touch does not disappear. “I think the system is in place,” said Randhir of the present day. “Indian shooters are smart, they are making the right choices, have sports psychologists and every kind of support needed. It was heartening for me to see the Indian shooters do well in Hangzhou last year. I hope Paris will be a happy hunting ground.”

To sample how much focus and hard work has been put in, sample this. Palak Gulia flew to Rio, sealed a quota and flew back to New Delhi. In three days, she may have to shoot the first set of trials, though the air pistol probables have not been named. All the shooters are being put through a tough qualifying, and there can be no grudging it. If anyone is going to talk of burn-out, sorry, these shooters have become like the Chinese in some ways. They keep going at it non-stop.

From a distance, it looks so easy. But then, preparing to be physically fit, mentally strong and not feel jaded is now in the DNA of the new Indian shooters. Winning quota places is just one thing. The four trials in two cities will be like a shootout of sorts. Soak in the pressure, and keep the nerves calm. Sounds easy?


The list of shooters for the Olympic trials (Rifle and pistol)

Air pistol: Sarabjot Singh, Arjun Singh Cheema, Varun Tomar, Naveen, Ravinder Singh.
Rapid fire pistol: Vijayveer Sidhu, Anish Bhanwala, Adarsh Singh, Bhavesh Shekhawat, Ankur Goel.
Air rifle: Divyansh Singh Panwar, Arjun Babuta, Rudrankksh Patil, Sri Karthik Sabari Raj, Sandeep Singh.
50m rifle 3-position: Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar, Swapnil Kusale, Akhil Sheoran, Chain Singh, Niraj Kumar.


Sports pistol: Rhythm Sangwan, Esha Singh, Manu Bhaker, Abhidnya Patil, Simranpreet Kaur Brar.
Air pistol: TO BE FINALISED. Most likely Rhythm Sangwan, Esha Singh and Manu Bhaker, plus Palak Gulia and Sainyam. Palak sealed a quota on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro and Sainyam was in the final at the event in Brazil.
Air rifle: Mehuli Ghosh, Ramita Jindal, Tilottama Sen, Elavenil Valarivan, Nancy Mandhotra.
50m rifle 3-position: Sift Kaur Samra, Ashi Chouksey, Shriyanka Sadangi, Nischal, Anjum Moudgil.