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Mairaj shoots to glory.

Becomes the first skeet marksman from India to win amedal at ISSF World Cup

MAIRAJ Ahmad Khan has a name on his Twitter handle. It says MaktheScorpion.

On Sunday, at the new skeet ranges in Rio, the marksman won India's first skeet medal at an ISSF World Cup as he scored 122 out of 125 in the preliminary phase. In the shootout for gold, Mairaj lost to eventual champion Marcus Svensson of Sweden ( plus 14 shootoff).

If one talks of India shooters in shotgun events, there is a rich history in trap and more recently double trap. Skeet shooters at home were always looked down upon as they never won big medals.

From the Maharaja Karni Singh era to the exploits of Randhir Singh on the Asian stage and later the performance of Mansher Singh, Moraad Ali Khan and Manavjit Sandhu, trap has been a strong suit.

Yet, the big change for Indian shooting came in 2004 when Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won the double trap silver at the Athens Olympics. All these years, shotgun only meant trap and double trap. For a nation which celebrates the success of shooters only when they win medals on the big stage, the intricacies of skeet are virtually unknown.

It's a highly technical sport and invariably takes place as the last event in a major championship.

" If a trap shooter or double trap shooter does well, the pressure comes down to us," Mairaj Khan said interview after booking a quota slot for the Rio Olympics in Lonato, Italy, last year.

If one thought the sixth- place finish in Lonato was a fluke, Mairaj, who has played cricket with Virender Sehwag during his time at Jamia, proved he is in great form and all the hard work is bearing fruit.

The turning point for skeet shooters came when the National Rifle Association of India and Sports Authority of India hired Ennio Falco as coach three years ago.

An Olympic champion himself at Atlanta 1996, Falco is respected for changing the face of skeet shooting in India.

" As much as one credits Mairaj for his fantastic effort, there is no denying the fact that Falco has brought a great work ethic in the skeet team. Mairaj has done well as he believes in himself," NRAI president Raninder Singh told Mail Today.

Making an Olympic debut at 40, after having been in the sport for 15 years, marks Mairaj as one of India's late blossoming talents. He has been making steady progress.

Falco's efforts have been solid on the fundamentals and not worrying too much about the shooter's scores.

Part of this drill includes making the shooters stand in the heat and do " dry runs" with the gun in hand and simulating clay targets flying out from various " houses." And now, when Mairaj says that " he is ready for the Rio Olympics," one has to believe him. Shooting under a blue sky and soaking in the pressure in Rio, Mairaj's chiseled- out figure looks good as he moves around the arena.

In a way, competing in Rio is the best way to adapt to outdoor conditions, which is very important for shooters.

Mairaj's mantra is simple. " One target, station 1 high house," which is where the skeet marksmen start from. After that, it's all about firing without fuss.

This man from Uttar Pradesh is enjoying himself.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Apr 26, 2016
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