Shooting Worlds: Indian team for men’s 10m air rifle features inexperienced youngsters while Mehuli & Elavenil spearhead women’s challenge

The Indian World Championship campaign begins on Friday with the men’s and women’s 10m Air Rifle events set to take place at the Egypt International Olympic City. While the men’s team has been overhauled completely after the 2021 Tokyo Games, the women’s team sees Mehuli Ghosh and Elavenil Valarivan leading the charge for a quota spot to the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The men’s event will take place first and India’s first-time World championship-appearing shooters have a tough task at hand. Seven of the eight to qualify for the 10m Air rifle finals at the 2021 Tokyo Games will be present at the Cairo Worlds, including gold medallist William Shaner, who shot an Olympic record on his way to the top.

India’s debutants in the event include Arjun Babuta and Rudrankksh Balasaheb Patil. The latter recently won the silver medal at the junior World Championships and then took down Olympian Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar 16-6 in the T6 national shooting trials, held in Madhya Pradesh.

Babuta, on the other hand, shot to the top at the Changwon World Cup in Korea this year. After having made the finals, the Chandigarh shooter found himself battling for gold against Lucas Kozeniesky, an American marksman who had won silver in the 10m Air rifle team event at the Tokyo Games and had placed sixth in the men’s individual event. In the final shootout, the 23-year-old Indian prevailed in the first-to-16 shootout 17-6 for the gold medal.

Despite the rich vein of form that has led to their selection in the World Championships team, a transition from the national trials or a World Cup to the toughest event in the calendar is a leap into the dark. In a field as stacked as this, winning a medal might be a bit far-fetched expectation. But on a good day, there is no knowing how well the debutants can score.

Ghosh returns

Five years ago, at the 2018 Changwon World Championships, a young Mehuli Ghosh had gone with the goal of taking a medal in the 10m Air rifle individual event. Her form going into the tournament boasted of medal-winning rhythm. But that form never translated into performance as Ghosh was unable to make it to the finals of her event, instead watching Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela go to the finals and come second and fourth at the Worlds.

Now she comes with renewed spirit and a new start at Gagan Narang’s Gun for Glory academy at its Hyderabad centre. She made the move six months ago along with coach Bibaswan Ganguly.

“In the last six months, we have worked on her technical and bio-mechnical parts. Assessments were made and her stance was changed. Her shot sequence, the timing and the release were all modified in the last six months. If we compare it to her previous ways, Mehuli will be shooting with some new techniques this time,” Ganguly told The Indian Express from Cairo.

Ghosh will be joined by Elavenil Valarivan, who was part of the Indian team at the Tokyo Games, and Meghana Sajjanar. While not having the experience of senior-level shooting that Ghosh and Valarivan carry, Sajjanar beat both of them as recently as March this year in the T1 shooting national trials.

The women’s event will see Tokyo 10m Air rifle bronze winner and 50m three-position gold medallist Nina Christen vying for her first Worlds medal. French shooter Oceanne Muller and American Olympian Mary Tucker – both of whom finished in the finals of the Tokyo Games, have shown good form ahead of the Worlds and have been touted as favourites ahead of the tournament.

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