Monday, 11 September 2017

Olympic Shooting Sports – An Overview

Olympic Shooting Sports – An Overview
by Ajay Singha, Shooting Sports Enthusiast, ISSF licensed Shotgun Coach and Referee  

In shooting sports it is very much a competition with oneself as the shooter tries to improve on his/her previous scores and as time progresses goes through a difficult phase when scores plateau and improvement becomes an uphill task. For the true shooting sport enthusiast the weapon becomes an extension of the body as the shooter must be absolutely at peace with oneself while aiming and shooting. A stage is reached where the gun which is the means for shooting becomes an end in itself and a point of perfect harmony is achieved between the mechanical and the human.

An increased public interest in shooting sports and news related to the performance of certain athletes led me to write this overview. Information shared will be interesting for those reading or writing for sports pages, parents of young shooters and those interested in understanding this discipline. Shooting is a highly individualistic sport and requires large amounts of patience, focus and determination if you plan to make a mark. These personality traits must be developed by every person entering this sport. Additionally they bring positivity in life and yield substantial benefits in other aspects of human existence.

People often ask questions relating to various aspects of one or the other events comprising this discipline. The following covers the present scenario in Olympic Shooting Sports and some events which are no longer included in Olympics have been mentioned in passing. Information relating to Paralympics are not included in this piece.

The International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) governs competitive shooting across continents and organisers of the Olympics, Continental games and World Cups look up to the ISSF for formulating rules and regulations governing their events. From 2017 a revised set of events and rules have been put into place which will impact all Olympic shooting events in 2020. In India the National Rifle Association NRAI is the apex body governing this sport and is headed by a prominent shooter unlike some of the other sports in the country. In India the NRAI truly represents the shooting sports community and is responsible for the remarkable progress in the medal hauls internationally. 

The sports community in general had strong concerns about gender equality in Olympics because in shooting there were nine men’s and only six women’s events at the last Olympics. Gender equality means that all Olympic sports must have a 50-50 men’s and women’s events and participation quotas for the Tokyo 2020 Games. The ISSF recommended changes which were accepted by the IOC and have been forthwith introduced at World Cups and National games and will feature in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

If we compare to the last Olympics, the Double Trap Men event has been replaced with a Shotgun Trap Mixed Gender Team event. The 50m Rifle Prone Men event has been replaced with a 10m Air Rifle Mixed Gender Team event and the 50m Pistol Men event will be replaced by a 10 meter Mixed Gender Team event.  This proposal was developed to preserve gender and discipline parity and retain 15 Olympic shooting events – 5 Rifle, 5 Pistol and 5 Shotgun. 

Shooting Sports events at the 2020 Seoul Olympics (total 15)
50m Rifle 3 Positions

10m Air Rifle
50m Rifle 3 Positions

10m Air Rifle

10m Air Rifle
25m Rapid Fire Pistol

10m Air Pistol
25m Pistol

10m Air Pistol

10m Air Pistol




In 1980’s the number of shooting events in Olympics was just seven as compared to 15 presently. In the 1986 World Championship a special finals match was introduced for the first time and from 1988 Olympics onwards continues till date albeit with changes.  Individual events and their rules are periodically reviewed and may again be amended in future Olympics depending on their acceptability to the viewing public and competing nations. The Olympic committee and the ISSF periodically examine the popularity of individual events amongst the youth, audience interest, affordability and related criteria to decide continuing or replacing them.  

The different shooting events presently covered in the Olympics can be divided into Rifle, Pistol and Shotgun categories.
In Rifle category the Olympic events take place in 10 Meter .177 Air Rifle and 50 Meter .22 Rifle. The 10 Meter has only standing position competition for both Men and Women. 60 shots for men and 40 shots for women are fired. In 50 Meter Rifle the men and women shooter must fire in three different positions namely standing, kneeling and prone.  A mixed gender team event has been introduced now in 10 meter Rifle featuring the top 8 shooters from Men as well as Women categories. They will form teams of two each and the shooter with the highest score in Women will pair with the lowest scoring shooter amongst Men and so on. This new event will be played in the finals format only and has been added to bring up viewer interest and youth participation.

In all rifle and pistol events the targets have circular rings and hitting closer to the centre secures a higher score as compared to the outer ring. This is measured on a scale of 0 to 10 points per shot. Today the international scores are about winning with decimal points as most international shooters secure perfect scores hitting the bull’s eye in almost each shot. This challenge of measuring decimals is not possible in the traditional paper targets and can be measured only on electronic scoring targets which will be explained later.

In the10 meter ranges only .177 calibre Air Rifle and Air Pistols are used in an indoor air conditioned environment. Fortunately no license is required for .177 Air weapons and this may be the main reason for the sport becoming increasingly popular all over the world. Fans displacing air at high speed may interfere with pellet trajectory. Lighting is also prescribed at specific levels for target area as well as shooting bays. In 10 Meter both Rifle and Pistol events take place from the standing position in Men as well as Women categories. Schools and private coaches have set up air conditioned 10 Meter indoor shooting Ranges in multi- purpose halls across the country.

With a large participation base this indoor sport is here to stay. Very specialised and high quality air rifles and air pistols are imported from Germany, Austria and Italy. Constant research and improvement by these manufacturers on high grade metals has produced extreme precision weapons as well as pellets. Indian manufactured Air weapons can be used only at a very initial stage by beginners at the school level club events. Specialized clothing to improve the stability of shooting positions is permitted in Rifle but not in pistol events. The clothing must adhere to parameters laid down by ISSF.

Till recently paper targets were used at all levels of competition. The paper targets have been replaced with electronic scoring targets ESTs. The purpose was to improve the accuracy and reduce disputes while shortening the time span to announce medal winners. Scores go beyond 10 points for a perfect bull’s eye into decimals and these decimal points can be recorded with accuracy only in an EST system. Hence the Olympic, Continental, World Cups and also the Nationals are conducted on ISSF approved ESTs only.

In 50 meter Rifle the traditional and exclusive prone position Rifle event for Men has been removed from Olympics but continues in continental, world cups and national levels. Higher calibre Rifles and long range rifle events are no longer in Olympics and continue in Military games, World Championships and Continental games. Similarly running target events for Rifle were discontinued from Olympics years ago but continue to be very popular and played across European nations with a background of hunting and field sports. Unfortunately this historically popular event is losing ground and has been completely ignored in India. Consequently the 10 Meter or full bore ranges do not have facilities to host running target events in India.

As pointed out earlier for Olympics only 50 Meter Rifle 3P, three positions is conducted. Here too the EST must be used even at national levels and beyond as scores go into decimals and accurate scoring is not possible otherwise. The EST system also ensures that scores are registered only if a shot is fired in the allotted time span and not otherwise. No Pistol but only rifle event takes place in Olympics in the 50 Meter ranges. The 50 Meter Pistol is a Men only event which is discontinued from Olympics but is popular at National, Asian and World Cups using .22 calibre pistols.

In Pistol category the events are in 10 Meter .177 Air Pistol and 25 Meter .22 Pistol. Both feature standing single hand position for Men as well as Women. In 10 Meter the number of shots taken is 60 for men and 40 for women. In 25 Meter the event itself is a bit different for Men as it features a dynamic time frame for taking quicker shots as the match progresses (rapid fire). For women it is a stable format and longer time frame with fewer shots taken (sports pistol). Pistol events in 25 Meter featuring calibres higher than .22 calibres were discontinued from Olympics much earlier but continue in Continental and World Cups / Championships for Men only. To sum up, the 10 Meter as well as 25 Meter ranges feature Men and Women Pistol standing position events and only the 10 Meter will have a mixed gender event as well. As mentioned earlier the 50 Meter .22 Pistol event for men has been removed from Olympics as it attracted a decreasing and limited participation from countries.
Only Pistol events are held in 25 Meter ranges and there are no rifle events in 25 Meter. Pistols of .22 calibre are used for Rapid fire events for both men and women in 25 Meter Pistol category. Men have to fire in two identical stages divided in series of 5 shots each. The first two series must be completed in 8 seconds, the third and fourth in 6 seconds while the last 2 in 4 seconds each. Women must fire 30 shots in Precision stage and 30 in the Rapid fire stage taking 3 seconds for each shot. The EST system ensures that scores are registered only if a shot is fired in the allotted time span and not otherwise.  Higher calibre pistol events take place in Continental games and World Cups only. These pistols require an arms license which is not easy to get for shooters on an individual basis. Clubs and Shooting Ranges are getting arms and ammunition at an increasing pace across India and all 10 meter pistol shooters can easily pick up this sport quickly.   

Shotgun Trap and Skeet are played by both men and women and now a mixed team event for Trap has also been introduced in the Olympics.  Double Trap shooting has been removed from the Olympic scene but continues in Continental and World Cups / Championships. In these events 12 gauge over under shotguns are used (16 and 20 gauge are permitted but seldom used) and a shot load measuring 24 grams maximum is fired.

Trap and Skeet feature men and women categories and now a mixed team event for Trap has been introduced in the Olympics.  Both Trap and Skeet are fully outdoor events and require ranges fitted with prescribed all weather equipment and machines which are ISSF approved adhering to their specifications. All these equipments are not made in India and constant research and development in technology and materials does not make economic sense to manufacture them in India. There are several rules and sub-rules governing this sport which must be followed scrupulously at all levels of competitions as they provide safety and uniformity in the sport. Arms license are required for individual shooters but increasingly Ranges across the country are acquiring guns and ammunition for members. This is an expensive sport as the guns, clay targets and ammunition are all imported.      
In Shotgun Trap the shooter must break a clay target which is electronically released through a voice activated system. The clay targets in trap shooting move at a speed of around 100 km/h and takes varying trajectories based on specific tables which are computer controlled and set in advance. The shooter must aim and break the target in less than a second of release and before it goes out of hitting range and falls at a distance of about 76 meters. A shooter is allowed to take two shots for each target but only a single shot in the finals. A trap trench with 15 machines, three in front of each station selects the flight path of each target. The computer controlled system ensures that each shooter gets similar angles of targets during each match of 25 shots and hence all competing shooters get the same chances on similar targets. Men shoot a qualifying round of 125 targets over two days while women shoot a 75 target qualifying course. The top six shooters from the qualifying round proceed into the finals.

Shotgun Skeet has been a part of the Olympics since 1968 and shooters fire a fixed course of 25 targets per round, fired from eight different shooting stations. Shooters start with the shotgun’s butt stock held at hip level and then call for their targets. Targets emerge from throwing machines housed at each side of the field, with the two houses referred to as the low house and high house. The targets speed is slower than trap as they fall at 72 meters and always taking a similar flight path. Targets are presented as either singles or doubles, and only one shot is allowed at each target. The doubles are indeed challenging as the shooter must move his gun to the opposite direction immediately after taking his first shot. Men shoot a qualifying round of 125 targets over two days while women shoot a 75 target qualifying course. The top six shooters from the qualifying round proceed into the finals.

The Finals
Now all shooting events conducted under ISSF rules are divided into qualifying and final matches. As the match is divided into qualifying and finals the shooters are given a ranking based on their performance in the qualifying event. The semi-final and final medal match format of the past has been abandoned. This has been done in order to have a consistent format for all the 15 ISSF Olympic shooting finals. Depending on the event the top six or eight shooters are given a ranking bib to wear during the finals. The finalists participate in a match which progresses eliminating the shooter with the lowest net score

has witnessed several changes by ISSF designed to increase the appeal of shooting sports, make it spectator friendly and increase the excitement leading up to the podium. All finals will now be conducted in an elimination-style format and a system of “records” has been introduced for all events. These changes were developed keeping in mind the importance of sports presentation to the public. Music and commentary in the Finals is now compulsorily required for all ISSF competitions. Music is also encouraged during Elimination and Qualification competitions as it is important for the spectators’ experience and a positive move for the youth.
For all 10m Air weapons and 50m Rifle Finals (except the 50m Rifle 3 Positions Finals) the number of shots has been extended from 20 to 24 – the first 2 series of shots now consist of 5 shots each (and not 3 shots like in the previous set of rules), to be fired in 250 seconds (150 seconds for 50m Rifle Prone). The first elimination will occur after the 12th shot (when the 8th place will be assigned), and from there on one shooter will be eliminated after every two shots. Therefore, the 14th shot will assign the 7th place, the 16th shot will assign the 6th place, the 18th shot for the 5th place, the 20th shot for the 4th place, the 22nd shot for Bronze and finally the 24th shot will decide the Gold and Silver medals winners.

The 25m Pistol Men and Women Final format has also been changed to a progressive elimination Finals. This is similar to the very successful 25m Rapid Fire Pistol Men Final. Shots will be scored in hit or miss style, and after 4 series of 5 shots each, the first shooter will be eliminated taking the 8th place. From there on, one athlete will be eliminated after every series, right to the 10th and final series that will assign the Gold and Silver medals.

For all Shotgun Finals, the format has changed to a progressive elimination format. All Finalists will start their final matches with a new BIB numbers (from 1 to 6), which as pointed out earlier will be assigned according to their qualification ranking. Qualification rankings will also decide ties for 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd places.

In Trap Finals, all six finalists will shoot a round of 25 targets each. After the first 25 targets, the worst performing shooter out of six will be eliminated. Following eliminations will occur after the 30th target (5th place) and the 35th target (4th place), while the Bronze medal will be decided after the 40th target. The two remaining shooters will shoot 10 additional targets, to decide the Gold and Silver medals after the 50th target. If there is a tie for the lowest ranking athlete to be eliminated at a point of the match, there will be no shoot-off. According to the new rules, the ties are broken by the Qualification Rank up to the Bronze medal. Therein lays the importance of ranking in the qualification round. Only if there is a tie for Gold and Silver medals will there be a shoot-off.

The new Skeet Finals will be based on 10-target sequences that include regular and reverse doubles on station 3, a regular or reverse double on station 4 and regular and reverse doubles on station 5. Station 4 doubles will alternate between regular and reverse doubles for each 10-target sequence. Skeet eliminations or medal decisions will occur after 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 targets. Once again, as per the other shotgun event a tie will be decided by the qualification rank. The only exception being the Gold and Silver medal in case of a tie.  Only in that case it will be awarded after a shoot off.
With the new rules in place, all 15 Olympic Shooting events Finals will have records (In the old set of rules the 25m Pistol Women event and all Shotgun events had no records in finals due to the semi-final / medal matches format). The naming of the Records has been changed to make it consistent through all the events and more understandable for the audience. Records scored during Finals are now called “World Records”, while records scored in qualification phases have been renamed “Qualification World Records”.

Paperless (Sustainable) Competitions Organizing Committees will have the option of using paperless, electronic systems to distribute start lists, results lists and information bulletins if wireless Internet connections are generally available on the shooting venue. Officials, coaches and athletes can view these documents on their handheld communication devices.
Athletes may, of course, wear sound reducing hearing protection, but they may not wear sound-enhancing gadgets during play. Competition officials are allowed to wear sound-enhancing hearing protection.

The new Rules permit non-verbal coaching to participants without causing any distraction for others. The role of trainers and coaches during events becomes relevant.
A new Shooting sport discipline made its official debut this year in Suhl Germany , where the first ISSF World Championship Running Target took place  involving around 100 athletes from 10 different countries. First introduced in 2013 and being tested multiple times during these four years, Target Sprint combines middle-distance running and air rifle shooting, a mix that already attracted many athletes from different disciplines, such as track and field and biathlon, who gave it a try and welcomed Target Sprint positively. Presently this is not included in Olympics so I will desist from explaining this interesting event which may well find its way into future games