New Delhi, Dec 21: Grounded in obscurity for long, India's young shooters and exponents of skeet shooting came of age with eye-catching performances at home as well as on foreign shores in a year when seven from the senior lot secured quota places for Rio Olympics, continuing the work in progress.
In youngsters such as Swapnil Kusale, Sumedh Kumar, Anant Jeet Singh Naruka and Aachal Pratap Singh Grewal, Indian shooting gave a glimpse of the dazzling array of talent it possesses and the bench strength it can boast of.
On the other hand, the likes of Abhinav Bindra, an Olympic champion and the country's most talked-about marksman, pistol ace Jitu Rai, Gagan Narang and Apurvi Chandela, among others, helped in swelling the number of quotas earned by India for coming summer's quadrennial extravaganza in Rio de Janeiro.
Often considered the weakest discipline for Indian shooting, skeet also took a step forward with Mairaj Ahmed Khan securing the country its maiden Olympic quota in the category.
Under the tutelage of 1996 Atlanta Olympics gold medal winner Ennio Falco, India's skeet shooters are gradually overcoming the lack of technical proficiency and have been able to deliver results.
Anant Jeet Singh Naruka, Angad Vir and Arjun Mann deserve more than mere mention for their efforts.
The 17-year-old Naruka won the men's skeet gold in the National shotgun championship at the JDA range in Jaipur last week, beating experienced pros like Mairaj. Bindra, a gold medallist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is calmly going about the task of preparing for Rio Games and his scores over the last few months are ominous signs for the riflemen, who will line up alongside the Indian in the 10-metre range.
Rai, also a quota-holder and winner of an unprecedented seven international medals in 2014, is focused on the task ahead. So is London Games bronze medallist Gagan Narang, who bagged India its third quota by winning a bronze medal at the ISSF Rifle and Pistol World Cup in Fort Benning, USA.
Bindra followed Narang to win the country its fourth berth. Likewise, Apurvi Chandela, Gurpreet Singh, Prakash Nanjappa, Chain Singh and Mairaj Khan also did enough to secure Olympic quotas.
However, established names like London Games silver medallist Vijay Kumar, former world number ones Manvjit Singh Sandhu and Heena Sidhu, Sanjeev Rajput, and Ayonika Paul, among others, have so far failed to earn quotas.
In the opening three World Cups, the shotgun and women shooters in particular struggled to find form and even though they have shot decent scores in some cases, they weren't enough.
The Asian Shooting Championships, to be held in New Delhi from January 25 to February 3, will be the last chance for them to secure quota places. The much-awaited tournament was originally scheduled to be hosted by Kuwait City in November but the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Executive Board scrapped the qualification status of the event owing to government interference.
The fact that Indian shooting has gone beyond iconic names in recent times, gives National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president Raninder Singh hope of achieving a top-five finish at Rio Olympics.
"I can say that Indian shooting has gone beyond iconic names and we have got a good bench strength," Raninder says.
The NRAI has been not just focussing on securing as many quota as possible for Rio, but also concentrated on building a strong bench strength in the last two-three years. Raninder added: "We had been focusing on building bench strength since the (2012) London Games. I would not be surprised if we surpass the numbers we had in the London Games."
The administrators were not just busy formulating strategy but also tried their hand at the sport. In a rare instance, Raninder along with NRAI Joint Secretary General Darius Chenai fought for top honours in a Senior National Championship.
Raninder squared off against Darius for the men's trap gold at the 59th National Championship at the JDA Range in Jaipur. Darius clinched the gold eventually with Raninder claiming the silver, while former trap world champion Manavjit Singh Sandhu bagged the bronze.
India, which bagged two medals from the sport in the last Olympics, had 11 shooters representing the country in London. The NRAI is very optimistic of having more participants in Rio and winning more than the two medals they clinched in the British capital.