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Shooters set sight on targets; India's best bets Elavenil Valarivan and Saurabh Chaudhary in medal contention

11:31 PM Jul 23, 2021 | Joe Williams

Mumbai: The stage is set for Tokyo 2020, the 32nd Olympiad, and the 15-member Indian shooting contingent is raring to go as per official communication with the squad at the Games Village. Come Saturday, the shooting competitions of the Tokyo Games get underway with two of the 15 finals lined up and four Indian shooters on show.

It begins with the 10m air rifle women’s qualification round, where India’s Apurvi Chandela and world number one Elavenil Valarivan are in contention. They will be looking to make it to the top eight finals field from among 49-shooters in the qualification fray.

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Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma then take the field with the same intention in the men’s 10m Air Pistol with qualificationsfor the 36-man field.

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Coaches of both the rifle and pistol camps were upbeat after completion of pre-event training, a day before the competitions at the Asaka Shooting Range on the eve of the contest on Friday.

The girls are all raring to go and training today has been as planned. We are confident of a good showing tomorrow,” said Deepali Deshpande, the National Rifle coach.

Also sharing his thoughts from Tokyo was Pistol coach Ronak Pandit saying, “Yes the boys trained for an hour today as did other members of the squad and they are all shaping up well. We are all looking forward to the start of competitions and are focused on the job ahead.”

Women’s 10m air rifle

A total of 60-shots are fired in the qualification round in an allotted time of 75minutes from a 0.177 inches caliber Air Rifle, and scoring is in decimals of 10 with a 10.9 being the perfect shot.

ROC athlete Yulia Karimova, the reigning world champion in the 50m rifle 3 Positions Olympic event and Chinese Taipei’s world number four Lin Ying-Shin will pose the most formidable threats in the field.

Generally, a score of 630 out of a maximum possible 654 ensures qualification into the finals at this level. The Indian duo has recorded world competition bests of 633 (Apurvi) and 632.7 (Elavenil) respectively.

Apurvi also holds the finals world record in the event with a score of 252.9 to her name.

The finals are a 24-shot affair with the eighth-place being decided after 12-shots and one shooter being eliminated after every two shots thereafter, till the winner is decided after the 23rdand 24thsingle shots.

Men’s 10m air pistol

Saurabh and Abhishek have been by far, the two best Air Pistol shooters in the world over the past three years, but the much narrower 36-man field here is fraught with danger, simply because of the presence of some legends of Pistol shooting, led by the biggest of them all, the inimitable Korean Jongoh Jin.

The four-time Olympic Champion (including once in this event), is also the reigning world champion and will have for the company, Beijing Olympic Champion Pang Wei of China, the Rio Rapid Fire Pistol Champion Christian Reitz of Germany and the Rio defending champion Hoang Xuan Vinh of Vietnam.

The Indian duo will also have to contend with the challenges of ROC athlete Artem Chernousov (world number three), in-form Iranian Javad Foroughi (world number four and winner of the last two world cups before the Olympics), seasoned Serbian Damir Mikec, recently crowned European Champion Juraj Tuzinsky of Slovakia and top-class Ukranian shooters Oleh Omelchuk and Pavlo Korostylov among others.

Champion from the war-ravaged Syria

Hend Zaza is the youngest competitor at the Tokyo Games, since the 1968 Winter Olympics

Press Trust of India

Tokyo: Not even a devastating war that destroyed her home city could stop Syria's 12-year-old table tennis player Hend Zaza from pursuing and realising her Olympic dream.

Gearing up to represent her war-ravaged country as the youngest Olympian at the Tokyo Games, Zaza hopes she can bring some smile back on the lips of his breathens back home.

"I want to make the Syrian people happy, not just me, but all sports we have. We will tell them that we are up for this and that we love them so much," said Zaza who hails from the Syrian city of Hama.

Zaza says it was table tennis which provided her an escape from all the suffering and pain of war and also gave her the strength to face the challenges of life.

"Table tennis gave me everything and taught me to be a strong human being, a confident one. It gave me patience," said Zaza, who was Syria's flagbearer in the opening ceremony on Friday.

Zaza, who started playing in 2014 and now trains in Damascus, will be 12 years and 204 days old when she opens her women's singles campaign on Saturday against 39-year-old Liu Jia of Austria, an opponent more than three times her age.

"We are challenging all conditions. We are able to control this. Once we go and play, we forget everything and only think about playing.

"We are training so that we can challenge the whole world and we are up to the challenge."

Zaza could have made her Olympic debut at 11 had the COVID-19 pandemic not delayed the Games by a year.

She will now be the youngest Olympian since 1992, when 11-year-old Carlos Front of Spain competed in rowing and 12-year-old Judit Kiss of Hungary in the swimming pool.

Zaza, however, says the postponement actually helped her to work on her skills.

"Because of the delay, I trained more and participated in training camps, benefited more. My performance improved."

Only the second Syrian table tennis player to compete at the Olympic Games after Heba Allejji, Zaza says she harboured this dream for the last five years.

Allejji had claimed her spot at Rio Olympics through the tripartite system.

This time around, Zaza earned her right to be at the Games by winning the Western Asia Olympic Qualification Tournament in Jordan in February last year.

"Since 2016, I had the dream of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics and I trained hard."

Zaza idolises double Rio Olympics gold medallist Ding Ning of China but her journey has been a tough one as her training was often interrupted by power outages or lack of equipment or quality training partners.

But she is unfazed and remains determined to pursue her dreams.

"Now, I'm starting the first step in the Olympics," she says.

"I will not stop playing. Table tennis is my whole life. I spend all my time playing it, other than table tennis I study.

"I'm working towards the future, to be the world champion and an Olympic champion, and to be a pharmacist or lawyer with my studies. The day that I don't train, I feel that I'm missing something and the day is not good."

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