As things often are in shooting, it was a matter of millimetres.

In an hour between the qualification round and his maiden final, Vijayveer Sidhu visualised multiple match situations. What he did not consider was being in contention for a quota for the Tokyo Olympics. “Never thought of it. Not once,” the 18-year-old insisted.

Yet, his steely nerves and calm demeanour propelled Sidhu to a position not many had expected.

After half-a-day of competition, Sidhu and Estonia’s Peeter Olesk were the only ones standing in the World Cup final of the 25m rapid fire, a thrilling discipline that demands high level of alertness, focus and coordination along with the ability to stay calm in the face of intense pressure.

The scenario for the gold medal series, a tiebreaker, was simple: in four seconds, the shooter who hit most of the five targets, placed 25 metres away in front of them, would win the gold medal, take 1,000 ranking points and all but seal an Olympic quota.

Just this one time, Sidhu wavered. He hit just one target, Olesk missed only one; gold, Estonia. India won a dozen gold medals in this World Cup but in the only final that mattered, the one that wasn’t mere match practice, and had something at stake, they fell agonisingly short.

Sidhu did not think of a quota because he wasn’t expected to. This was, after all, the rookie’s first World Cup.

He was here just to get some experience before training his sights on the Paris Olympics three years later.

The focus was more on the two other Indians in this event: Gurpreet Singh – whose dramatic week saw him forced into isolation after a false Covid-positive report and then overcoming a pistol malfunction during qualifying to make the final, where he was the first to exit.

Anish Bhanwala, a junior world champion, Commonwealth Games gold medalist and India’s highest-ranked shooter internationally in this event was the second one to get eliminated from the final.

But in Sidhu, Indian shooting seems to have found a genuine talent in an event where the country has won an Olympic silver medal, Vijay Kumar at the 2012 Olympics.

It was, however, Gagan Narang’s bronze in the 10m air rifle at the London Games and not Kumar’s medal that drew Sidhu to the sport. “After Gagan sir won a medal, there was a shooting camp at my school in Mansa. I gave it a shot and have continued since then,” Sidhu, who has an identical twin, Udayveer, also a shooter, said.

In 2015, the Sidhus relocated to Chandigarh in search of better training facilities. Since then, the twins steadily rose through the domestic ranks, halting training only during their father’s untimely death in 2017.

A year later, the Sidhu brothers won team gold at the World Championships in Changwon. Sidhu, who often teams up with rifle shooter Anjum Moudgil for workout sessions when in Chandigarh, went on to bag the national title in 2019 and this year, he won the trials to cement his status as the top pistol shooter in the country.

“His progress has been steady over the last few years,” national pistol coach Samresh Jung said. “He remains cool in pressure situations and is very focused, two key attributes in this event.”

Save for tie-breaking series of five shots, Sidhu personified these traits. He still has an outside chance to win a quota for the Tokyo Olympics. If Olesk wins the gold medal at the European Championship in May, a spot will open up for the highest-ranked shooter yet to win a quota. If permutations at the time work out in Sidhu’s favour, he could find himself on the flight to Tokyo.

He, however, isn’t thinking about the complicated qualification scenarios. “I won a silver medal here, I’m okay with it. I am satisfied with what I have,” he said. “This is a long journey.”

Despite a silver, India’s chances for a Tokyo quota in rapid fire pistol may have diminished. But in Sidhu, the country has someone to pin hopes on for Paris in 2024.

India also missed an outside chance to win a quota in the men’s trap event.

Kynan Chenai, who needed to win a gold to get himself into contention, managed a fourth-place finish.

Former world champion Daniele Resca of Italy won the gold while reigning world champion Alberto Fernandez won silver. Valerio Grazini of Italy was third.

Mihir Vasavda… read more

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