45 medals at Tokyo 2020 embraced by shooters of 19 Nations | Sunday Observer

45 medals at Tokyo 2020 embraced by shooters of 19 Nations

5 September, 2021
San Marino’s Alessandra Perilli celebrated her country’s first medal
San Marino’s Alessandra Perilli celebrated her country’s first medal

The Shooting program at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games were unlike any other. With its strict protocols, it was the first to be played without spectators. It was full of historic representations and inspirational victories, and the competition will be known for many firsts.

The Tokyo 2020, offered 15 sets of medals for shooting and it was the fourth biggest sport along with judo at the Tokyo 2020, behind athletics with 48 gold medals, swimming with 35 and wrestling with 18 amongst 33 Olympic sports. The program took place from July 24 to August 2, 2021 at the Asaka Shooting Range in Japan whilst a total of 360 shooters, with an equal distribution of 180 men and 180 women took part.

Spirit of Sport Shooting

Despite the small targets, shooting has considerable spectator appeal. The tension prior to firing, the exhilaration of a successful shot and the dramatic changes in ranking caused by even the slightest inaccuracy all make for a compelling experience.

In 50m rifle 3 Positions events, 40 shots are taken from each of the kneeling, prone and standing positions. These events have a time limit of 2 hours 45 minutes for the main competition which decides the eight finalists, who then compete for medals over one hour. It is a supremely rigorous challenge and competitors are said to lose up to two kilograms in weight by the end.

The 25m rapid fire pistol is an event involving successive rapid fire in the standing position over short periods of eight, six and four seconds. No automatic function is used, and all shots require the trigger to be pulled manually.

The 25m pistol is an event for women only in which the target is aimed at with one hand from the standing position. The event comprises 60 shots, split evenly between rounds of precision shooting and rapid shooting. This is a test of athletes’ ability at both formats.

Clay shooting requires instant judgment and sharp reflexes. Trap is about hitting randomly released clays while moving between five shooting stations arranged in a line. Participants take two shots at each target.

Skeet sees competitors aiming at clays in a range of directions using a total of eight shooting stages. A total of 25 targets are released and, unlike trap, there’s one shot per target. The shape of the range and wind direction are among the factors for athletes to consider.

Olympic Competition at Tokyo 2020

The 15 events were divided into three groups: rifle, pistol and shotgun. The rifle and pistol events were held on shooting ranges, with competitors aiming at targets from distances of 10, 25 and 50 metres. In rifle and pistol, competitors aim at a target with concentric circles, with those closer to the centre earning more points.

There were four-gun types: 50m rifle, 10m air rifle, 25m rapid fire pistol and 10m air pistol. There were also three shooting positions: kneeling, where the athlete goes down on one knee and rests the gun on the other knee; prone, where the athlete shoots while lying down; and standing. Some events included all these positions.

Shotgun is the art of shooting at a flying target known commonly as a clay target. There were two varieties: trap, where the targets are thrown a long distance from a single trap; and skeet, where targets are thrown from traps on the left and right.

At Tokyo 2020, a total of 19 nations shared the total of 45 medals. China emerged victorious winning 4 gold, 1 silver and 6 bronze medals. The United States came second with 3 gold medals whilst Russian Olympic Committee came third with 2 gold medals. 6 countries namely, Czech Republic, Switzerland, France, Iran, Slovakia and Spain managed to win a gold each.

Sri Lanka in Shooting

Shooting is a popular global sport with around 100 participating countries. At the Summer Olympics, it has been contested since 1896 for 125 long years. In Shooting, physical fitness is important and competitors require deep reserves of mental strength. Yet, the victory may hinge on a single shot.

Shooting has been identified as a potential medal winning Olympic sport for Sri Lanka and the best shooters have been exposed to the Olympic arena since 1964.

Sri Lankan shooters, Ravi Jayewardene and Habarakadage Perera (1964), Daya Rajasinghe (1972 and 1988), Zal Chitty (1988), Pushpamali Ramanayake (1992, 1996 and 2004), Malini Wickramasinghe (1996 and 2000), Ruwani Abeymanne (2000), Edirisinghe Senanayake (2008), Mangala Samarakoon (2012 and 2016) and Tehani Egodawela (2020) have taken part at the Olympics but without reasonable success.

In 1980s, a pool of talented young shooters was chosen from the tri-services, Police and clubs by Captain Ravi Jayewardene as the National Security Adviser, inspired them under his watchful eyes to excel in shooting with honour, courage and commitment.

Then, Hon. Jeevan Kumaratunga as the Minister of Sports provided a fully pledged Shooting Complex at the Sri Lanka Navy base in Welisara and Sri Lanka hosted the South Asian Games 2006 in Colombo to the admiration of all stakeholders.

The victory of Abhinav Bindra of India in 10m air rifle at Beijing 2008, becoming the first Indian individual Olympic gold medalist stimulated Sri Lankan shooters to believe in their skills and take the sport at a professional level.

It was the Sports Minister, Hon. Mahindananda Aluthgamage who spotted and revived shooting in Sri Lanka to greater heights during his tenure from 2010 to 2014. He facilitated the right balance and developed all salient aspects of the sport to admirable echelons. Sri Lanka even provided residential training to international shooters from SAARC region.

In a determined effort, Hon. Mahindananda Aluthgamage took personal leadership to prepare the stage meticulously. He uplifted the range facilities, provided latest weapons, ammunition and attire, afforded the much-needed international exposure, encouraged coaches to sharpen the skills of the shooters and steered administrators admirably.

Shooters were even taught how to walk to the range and their stance, stability, timing and execution in ‘mock finals’ that had atmosphere of international competitions. Sri Lanka made vast strides and shooters performed well but since his departure there was no continuity and sport has suffered.

Amongst the Indian shooters, beside Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won a silver in men’s double trap in Athens 2004. Gagan Narang won a bronze in men’s 10m air rifle whilst Vijay Kumar added a silver in men’s 25m rapid fire pistol at London 2012. During the last decade, Indian shooting has steadily flourished to greater heights.

Shooting at Summer Olympic Games

Shooting has come a long way having first appeared at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens 1896. With the exceptions of St. Louis 1904 and Amsterdam 1928 editions, shooting has featured on every Olympic program. Originally, there were just 3 events.

Early competitions included some events now regarded as unusual, such as live pigeon shooting in 1900; dueling in 1906 and 1908; and numerous events restricted to military weapons. After 1900 games, the pigeons were replaced with clay targets. In 1907, the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) came into existence and brought some standardizations to the sport.

Shooting events were held in 1908, 1912, 1920 and 1924. When shooting was reintroduced in 1932, it consisted of 2 events. Since then, the events have increased steadily. Events marked as Men were nominally open events from 1968 until 1980 and in shotgun until 1992.

In 1992, Chinese competitor Zhang Shan sensationally won gold in a mixed-gender Skeet event. In doing so, she became the first woman ever to win a gold in an Olympic event. At Atlanta 1996, the shooting program was segregated, so her achievement could remain unique for a long time. Another woman, Margaret Murdock won a silver in rifle 3 positions in 1976.

In 2017, the ISSF welcomed the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to approve the changes of the Olympic shooting program to achieve gender equality and to enhance the sport’s popularity and worldwide appeal.

One of the significant changes in the program was to replace the 3 men-only events, namely 50 m rifle prone, 50 m pistol, and double trap, with the mixed team competitions (rifle, pistol, and trap), which were highly encouraged as a means of ensuring gender equality. Other ratified changes included the same number of shots for both men and women, and the progressive elimination finals for both the women’s sport pistol and the shotgun events.

All shooters who advanced to the Olympic finals of their individual events were to start from scratch and compete against each other in a series of elimination rounds. The stage continued until the competition leaves with only two shooters battling out in a duel to decide the gold and silver medals.

Current Qualification Rules

In February 2018, the ISSF agreed to change the rules on the allocation of the Olympic quota places, as it aimed to attain gender equality. As a result, a total of 360 quota places, an equal distribution between men and women, were awarded at the top-level global and continental championships.

As per the rules, qualification period commenced with the 2018 ISSF World Championships, which concluded on September 15, 2018. There, 48 individual and 12 mixed team quota places were assigned. Throughout the process, quota places were generally awarded when a shooter earned a gold in an ISSF World Cup series or posts a top finish at the ISSF World Championships or African, European, Asian, Oceania and American continental championships.

After the qualification period concluded and all NOCs received the official list of quota places, the ISSF checked the World Ranking list in each individual event. The highest-ranked shooter, who had not qualified in any event and whose NOC does not have a berth in a specific event, were allocated a direct Olympic quota place.

Unlike the previous Games, the host nation Japan was guaranteed 12 quota places, with one in each of the individual shooting events. Accordingly, 300 quota places were entitled by the shooters coming from their respective NOCs, based on the results at designated ISSF supervised Championships subjected to the ISSF rules from September 1, 2018, to June 6, 2021.

Four quota places (top 2 teams per NOC) were awarded to the shooters competing in each of the mixed team events (rifle, pistol, and trap). The remaining 24 quota places were available to the eligible NOCs under the Tripartite Commission Invitation, with 2 in each of the individual event, to attain a maximum number of 360. The NOCs were authorized to assign a different shooter in each individual or mixed team event, provided that he or she has attained a MQS.

Men’s Gold Medalists at Tokyo 2020

Zhang Changhong, 21 of China was the youngest in the event but the best as he set a world record and Olympic record in 50 m rifle 3 positions, with a score of 466.0.

Vincent Hancock of the United States won the gold in the skeet. The win in Tokyo 2020 is a redemption of sorts for Hancock. At Beijing 2008 and London 2012, he won gold medals but at Rio 2016, he finished in 15th place. Now he is the only skeet shooter to ever garner three Olympic golds. In 2005, at 16, Hancock won his first World Championship title and the prestigious ISSF’s Shooter of the Year award. Hancock is one of the most decorated shooters in the history.

Javad Foroughi, 41 won gold in 10m air pistol thus becoming Iran’s first medal winner in shooting at the Olympics. Jean Quiquampoix of France won the gold in 25m rapid fire pistol having earlier won a silver at Rio 2016. Jiri Liptak of Czech Republic won the gold in the trap event.

William Shaner, 20 of the United States won gold in 10m air rifle setting a new Olympic Record of 251.6. He is the second youngest gold medalist in the event.

Women Gold Medalists at Tokyo 2020

Vitalina Batsarashkina of Russia won both 10m air pistol and 25m pistol, becoming the first shooter ever to win three medals at the same Olympics. She is a two-times Olympic champion and two-times Olympic silver medalist.

Chinese shooter Yang Qian claimed the gold in 10m air rifle. Yang had a 9.8 on her final shot and finished with an Olympic record 251.8. Switzerland’s Nina Christen won gold in the 50m rifle 3 positions, establishing an Olympic record with 463.9 and becoming the first Swiss to win a gold in a women’s event.

Zuzana Rehak-Stefecekova of Slovakia won the gold in the trap event, following her two silvers at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. Amber English of the United States won the gold in the skeet, setting a new Olympic record of 56. Born to a family of hunters and sport shooters, she began shooting at the age of 6.

Newsmakers at Tokyo 2020

Amongst mixed events, China won gold medals in 10m air pistol team and 10m air rifle team events whilst trap team was won by Spain. Sheng Lihao of China who won the silver in the Men’s 10m air rifle became the youngest medalist in Olympic Shooting history at just 16 years and 233 days, and it proved to be his maiden senior medal.

Shooter Alessandra Perilli of San Marino, a country with a population of just 34,000 won the microstate’s first Olympic medal, a bronze in the women’s trap. Perilli’s victory ensured that San Marino is now the smallest country ever to win an Olympic medal. In 2012, it seemed as if the tiny land had finally struck a silver or bronze, but Perilli lost in a shoot-off for a tie in the women’s trap, finishing in the worst of all Olympic positions, fourth.

San Marino is hardly an athletics powerhouse though first competed at the Olympics in 1960. Sports fans mostly know it for its forays into European soccer qualifiers. But now San Marino has a positive sporting distinction.

“This is the first medal for me and for my country. We are a small country but very proud,” she said after the medal ceremony. In an inspiring message to younger athletes she said, “Keep practicing sports and dream.” After 2 days, Alessandra Perilli and Gian Marco Berti taking part in the inaugural mixed-gender trap shooting team competition secured an Olympic silver as well.

(The author served shooting in Sri Lanka for decades. He served as the President, Sports Shooting and Chairman, South Asian Games Secretariat from 2011 to 2014. He can be reached at [email protected])