Despite ammunition delays from Germany owing to Ukraine war, Swapnil Kusale brings 3-position 50m shooting Olympic quota

Swapnil Kusale passed through the highest of highs and then crashed to the lowest of lows at the 2022 ISSF World Championships in Cairo on Saturday. The Indian 50m rifle three-position shooter had an excellent day at the range and won India a quota for the 2024 Paris Olympics in his event, but then missed out on a medal in cruel fashion.

Ammunition delays from Germany in the lead up to the World’s, owing to the Ukraine war, did not deter the shooter in his quest of a quota from the World’s.

The 27-year-old shooter was in second position in the final standing series and was a shoo-in for the gold medal shootout. But a poor series of 47.5, encapsulated by a horror 8.2 final shot, not only killed any hopes of Kusale reaching the shootout, but also dropped him to fourth spot and away from the medal category at the Worlds.

At any rate, Kusale became the first ever Indian to earn an Olympic quota in 50m 3position at a World Championship, a supremely competitive event where no Indian has ever medalled or been Top 4.

Kusale, the son of a school teacher in a small village near Radhanagari, in the Kolhapur district, began his shooting journey by being enrolled into the Maharashtra government scheme called Krida Prabodhini. The program takes children from rural areas and then provides sports training in state-run stadiums and arenas.

After a year of physical training, students are asked to opt into a specialised area of sport and Kusale chose shooting. This was despite the high cost involved with the sport, where even the bullets used, have to be imported from first-world countries and lack of money usually ends careers like no other. He soon made it into the junior national team where he was first spotted by then juniors coach Deepali Deshpande.

“Swapnil used to practice the prone event at the national camp because he liked it and it was the only place where he could get access to ammunition. He was good at prone, so we put him in the 50m three-position event,” Deshpande told The Indian Express. “In the junior nationals, we didn’t expect him to do much and I didn’t think too much about it because he had just started shooting and this would have been one of his first 3P competitions. He ended up getting a score of 1162 or 1164, which was brilliant considering he was a first-timer and a junior. That score would have put him in the senior finals.”

Since then, Kusale ended up signing with Lakshya Sports and also got a job with the Railways. The financial hit that his sport so likes to deliver, were dulled by these developments. But adversity hit again as he failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic games and had to watch his compatriots in Sanjeev Rajput and Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar be selected ahead of him.

Ammunition delays

Now with a new Olympic cycle only recently begun, Kusale has a new cycle of issues to contend with. If the global pandemic that brought the world to a standstill, torpedoed any chance of his qualification to the Tokyo Games, the war currently taking place in Ukraine, also factored in a haphazard run-up into the World Championships.

“He got access to ammunition only a few days before the World Championship camp started. Because of the war in Ukraine, there were a lot of restrictions on the export of ammunition from Germany. Shooters now have to go through the NRAI specifically to procure ammunition and the restrictions meant that this process got delayed. Thankfully we managed to secure it before the Worlds began,” said Deshpande.

There was also the issue of his kit. Before the 2022 National Games, Kusale ended up losing quite a lot of weight and then had to hastily get his shooting jacket altered to suit him better. The timing of the weight loss meant that he only had the shortened national camp to work with his altered kit and fresh ammunition ahead of the Worlds.

At the World Championships on Saturday, Kusale shot a 593 in qualification and made it to the eight-man final ahead of Indian shooters Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar and Niraj Singh who finished 14th and 19th in qualification. He then raced to a lead in the finals, shooting a 52.2 and then a 52.4 five-shot set in the kneeling series. In his first 10 shots, seven of the scores were 10.5 or above.

It was his favoured prone series, though, the first signs of trouble started to crop up. A 9.8 shot to begin with, followed by a few low 10s meant that by the end of the prone series, Kusale had dropped from first to third position. He was at this point, still in line for a medal and the Paris Games quota.

In the standing series, the Maharashtra shooter shot a 51.2 and climbed into second spot but then squandered those gains with an even 50-point display in the second series. From here on out, eliminations would begin and the first two were Germany’s Maximillian Dallinger and South Korea’s Jonghyun Kim. Their exit, along with Norwegian Jon-Hermann Hegg already having won a Paris Games quota, meant that there were two Polish shooters left in the competition and Kusale thus had won his quota.

With the main job done, Kusale turned to winning a medal at the Worlds – a task only one Indian has done so far this year, while participating in an Olympic quota event. He shot a 51.0 series to continue his stay in the top four at second spot. But then a disastrous final series, right as the pressure was mounting, took place.

Kusale needed to finish second and was in line for doing so. All that was required was for the 27-year-old to shoot a 10.1 in his final shot. But the pressure of the moment finally hit Kusale at the worst spot possible and he dropped an 8.2. The shot made his series go down to 47.5 and made him not only miss out on a gold medal shootout, but drop him to fourth spot and thus miss out on a Worlds bronze as well.

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