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Encouragement for Indian shooter Mairaj Ahmed Khan from Andrea Benelli

Andrea Benelli said Mairaj Ahmed Khan is very good and has the experience and has a good chance of winning in this competition.

mairaj-m Mairaj Ahmed Khan had some encouraging words coming his way from Andrea Benelli. (Source: File)

Two days before his event in the ongoing ISSF World Cup, India’s No.1 skeet shooter Mairaj Ahmed Khan had some encouraging words coming his way from Italian legend Andrea Benelli, who is an Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion.

Benelli is at the capital as coach of the Italian shotgun team participating in the ongoing ISSF World Cup.

Even as some of the top shooters from the continent have given the tournament a miss to prepare for the upcoming European Championship, 56-year-old Benelli has brought a squad that includes the gold medalists in both men’s and women’s skeet events at the Rio Olympics.

“As far as I am concerned, Mairaj is very good and has the experience, he has been doing well for your country, he also has a very good coach (Italian Ennio Falco). I think he has a good chance of winning in this competition,” Benelli told PTI when asked what he felt about the Indian shooter’s progress.

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Considering the abundance of talent that he oversees, the Athens Games gold medal winner was asked if his “good friend” has it in him to one day triumph at sport’s biggest stage, Benelli responded in positive.

“Yes, he has the ability to win there,” the Italian said. About Falco, Indian shotgun coach Marcelo Dradi has only admiration, describing him as one of the all-time best shooters.

For long considered the weakest link in Indian shooting, Mairaj broke the shackles when he became the first from the country to qualify for the Olympic Games.

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The 40-year-old followed that up with a silver medal at the Pre-Games event in Rio de Janeiro but, unfortunately, he bowed out on the big day last August with a ninth-place finish after losing in a shoot-off.

The contribution of Falco, 1996 Atlanta Games gold medal winner, in breaking the glass ceiling was no less.

Italy has been for long a dominant force in shotgun shooting and Benelli felt it’s ingrained in their culture.

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“We are a nation that has won more medals (in shotgun shooting) than any other county in Olympics since 1956. We have a rich history in shotgun, but then every competition is different and so is this one going to be.

“We have a big tradition of shotgun shooting and the set-up back home is very professional. We have many big shooters and they live life for shooting. They start very early in life.

“This is the first competition of the season and it is too early to predict how it will go.”

The squad competing in the ongoing competition includes Rio Games gold medal winner in men’s skeet Gabriele Rossetti and women’s champion Diana Bacosi.

First published on: 27-02-2017 at 09:45:45 pm
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