Rifle shooter Rudrankksh Patil’s success story has been the only standout event in an otherwise sedate year for marksmen, where they even missed the high of the Commonwealth Games after the sport was given a short shrift by the Birmingham organisers.
The 10m air rifle exponent from Maharashtra conquered the field in Cairo to emerge world champion with the added bonus of an Olympic quota place, and has now emerged as a hot contender to emulate 2008 Beijing Olympics champion Abhinav Bindra’s feat in 2024 Paris Games.
The bespectacled Bindra and double-trap marksman Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore — silver medallist at the 2004 Athens Games — have been icons when it comes to setting the standards for youngsters to follow.
And youngsters like Rudrankksh needn’t look beyond these two big names for inspiration as they dream big and practice maniacally to achieve those goals.
In fact, inspired by the showing of the two legends, there has been a tsunami of young, aspiring and ambitious shooters making a beeline to the hundreds of private ranges that have mushroomed across the country to cater to the thousands taking up the sport in the country.
Such has been the zeal to excel in shooting sport since the two achievements that every single domestic or international competition throws up a couple of new faces, coming from varied backgrounds and driven by the hunger to win gold at the Olympics.
The year 2022 was no different with the likes of teenage 10m air rifle marksman Rudrankksh, Bhowneesh Mendiratta (trap) and Swapnil Kusale (50m rifle three-positions) securing quota places for the country for the Paris Games.
A feeling of dismay had pervaded the scene after a 15-strong contingent returned empty-handed from the Tokyo Olympics.
Passionate fans of the sport were seeking answers from the national shooting body as to what went wrong in Tokyo.
Post the Tokyo debacle, a few fresh faces were needed to lift the gloom. And that came in the form of Rudrankksh.
The Thane marksman, who turned 19 a few days back, has come as a breath of fresh air, quite like Bindra. He was inspired by Bindra’s gold in Beijing and seems to be in the same mould as the illustrious Punjab shooter — committed, ambitious and hungry for the ultimate prize.
Son of an IPS officer, Rudrankksh has virtually cut his interaction with the world outside and is concentrating with the single-minded approach of winning the Olympic gold.
The Maharashtra lad was consistently scoring big in domestic events, though winning gold at the World Championships in Cairo in October looked far fetched for a teenager.
However, Rudrankksh’s family never had any doubt about his ability to withstand pressure. He defeated Italy’s Danilo Dennis Sollazzo for gold to become only the second Indian to achieve the feat in air rifle after Bindra.
He also became only the sixth Indian world champion shooter after Bindra, Tejaswini Sawant, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Om Prakash Mitherwal and Ankur Mittal.
The elite President’s Cup, where he again defeated Sollazzo for gold, was the icing on the cake as he also emerged the world No.1 in the category, displacing the Italian.
“Rudrankksh goes into a trance when he is shooting, oblivious to the world outside," his father had told PTI.
“He is inspired by Abhinav Bindra’s feat and his only goal is glory at the Olympics."
Rudrankksh’s career graph too indicates he would be the one to look out for in Paris to end India’s medal drought in the sport, which has extended to two Olympics now.
Bindra won the World Championships gold in 2006 and two years later clinched the top medal at Beijing. Rudrankksh could follow a similar trajectory but before that, 2023 will be a crucial year for him in terms of preparation and making himself mentally strong for Paris.
The Asian Games in Hangzhou next year and several international competitions will provide not just Rudrankksh but young trap shooter Mendiratta and veteran Kusale opportunity to polish their skills before the Olympics.
Mendiratta was unlucky to miss a medal at the shotgun World Championships in Osijek, Croatia in September, but bagged the Olympic quota by finishing fourth. With this, the 23-year-old from Faridabad has offset the disappointment of India not being able to send a shooter in a trap event to Tokyo.
It was for the first time since 1992 that India didn’t have at least one trap or double trap marksman at the Olympics.
Three quota places reserved, the Indians would now be targetting more slots in the qualification cycle, scheduled to run until June 2024.
The World Championships in August next year and the Asian Championships in Changwon in October are the key events where Indians would look to stamp their pedigree.
There will be no dearth of new faces like Rudrankksh in the national squad with the desire to perform at major international competitions. And there will be more than a fair sprinkling of veterans, such as skeet shooter Mairaj Ahmed Khan among others, rubbing shoulders with shooters half their age.
For stalwarts like Mairaj, it could be one last opportunity for a shot at Olympic glory, while for the young, 2023 could well be a harbinger of the good times that await them.
Time to take a shot at Paris 2024 by setting gold standards in 2023.
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