Throughout the World Shooting Para Sport World Cup, Team India have provided the most vocal support for all their athletes, and they had plenty to celebrate throughout Monday’s penultimate day of competition in Osijek, Croatia.
Cheers and whoops filled the room for the P1 (men’s 10m air pistol SH1) as soon as it was confirmed that Jakhar Rahul and Manish Narwal were guaranteed gold and silver medals When Rahul landed the decisive shot to secure gold and a new world record in the process with a score of 240.1, pandemonium erupted with the entire team racing forward to embrace their compatriot.
"There’s no rivalry between us, he’s like a brother to me"
“It is some feeling to have broken the record,” said Rahul. “It is very important for us because shooting is a high priority sport in India. During the gold medal shoot-out with Manish I wasn’t thinking about the medal or scores, I was only thinking about my technique. There’s no rivalry between us, he’s like a brother to me.”
For the fiercely competitive Narwal – the 17-year-old rising star, who has already declared his desire to win gold and break the world record at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics – a silver medal and a junior world record was scant consolation.
The teenager admitted he was devastated to have missed out on gold, but an hour later he was on his feet cheering on team-mates Nisha Kanwar and Rubina Francis who won gold and bronze respectively, in the P2 (women’s 10m air pistol SH1).
For Kanwar, it was a particularly remarkable achievement as she was competing in her first international competition.
“It feels very, very nice,” she said. “My first competition, and first medal, I can’t believe it. I’ve only been shooting since 2018. I’m very lucky because my coaches and family have been extremely supportive.”
Half an eye on the World Championships
But while the pistol competitions have seen the emergence of some new stars at this World Cup, the rifle events have been dominated by some of the sport’s most experienced veterans.
Serbia’s Dragan Ristic won the world R5 (mixed 10m air rifle SH2) title last year and he claimed R9 (mixed 50m air rifle SH2) gold on Monday.
“When I shoot here I feel like I’m at home,” he said. “This is already the third time I’ve competed in Osijek. It’s the same time zone as Serbia, same food, and that keeps me really relaxed and calm. I’ve been training a lot at this discipline for the World Championships in Australia later this year, and winning here is the first box checked for that. But performing there will be another question. It’s such a long trip, different time zone, many more challenges.”
Britain’s Tim Jeffrey - who won R9 bronze - said that the desire to build form and momentum with just two months to go is playing through the mind of every shooter. “Regardless of who you are, that’s always in the back of your mind,” he said. “They’re the big ones, and that’s where you want to give your best performances. I’m absolutely buzzing right now, really looking forward to Sydney and Tokyo and hopefully I’ll walk away with a medal or two.”
Medals fuel the motivation
Britain’s Matt Skelhon has won everything the sport has to offer, including gold at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics, but he admitted that the chance to win further medals is what keeps him going.
Skelhon had to settle for silver in the R6 (mixed 50m rifle prone SH1) on Monday morning after a stunning performance from Germany’s Natascha Hiltrop.
“Qualifying today was tough, but I managed to pull something out of the tank in the final and squeeze another medal in,” he said. “I gave it my all, and Natascha was just shooting out of her skin. She has been for the past two days in the elimination and qualifying. I always like to be on the podium, that’s what keeps me going. I’ve found it tough a few times to carry on because I’ve been around, I’ve won medals at every competition, but when you win a medal you’re back up there and it fires you up again.”
The Osijek World Cup concludes on Tuesday with the 10m air rifle and 10m air pistol mixed team competitions, and is being streamed live on World Shooting Para Sport’s website.