A shootout for shooting

Man against his own nerves and limitations is all very well, and even vaguely noble. But sport, frankly, loves its match-ups.

The sport of shooting definitely gave a thumbs-up to 'duels' at the Olympics — though guns, best glamourised by cowboy Westerns, stayed safely pointed at targets, not fellow participants.

Happily, when shooting found its Eureka moment of spectator excitement and TV connect in the rapid-fire pistol event (widely believed to attract the most eyeballs owing to its format), Vijay Kumar was in the thick of things in London, winning silver. Shooting's ISSF has borrowed from this event to spice up its sport, that to the world outside of the fraternity can appear long, ponderous and deadly dull. The business-end of shooting events — the final — will now start-at-zero (not carry forward points from the qualification round), use elimination to whip up drama after every round, and finally simplify a scoring system which boggles the mind with its decimals that are necessary to determine precision, but leave many yawn-stifflers, doing complex math, in the galleries above.

The duel between the two best athletes to decide the gold and silver medals can add to the narrative of head-to-head rivalries in sport, where shooters themselves might dig solitude and silence in practice, but are essentially competing to entertain viewers.

What the start-at-zero means is that the final becomes all-important. The cushioning for shooters themselves goes away, and everyone starts with the same psychological (dis)advantages, and are required to step up again in the finals without the sword of the quali scores hovering on their already strained heads.

Sure, it's not particularly rewarding of consistency and brings in an element of lottery. But there was beauty in breakdown when world record holder Alexei Klimov's wilted in the final in London and finished outside of the podium.

Shivani is a special correspondent based in Mumbai.


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