Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Gunning for glory: Know everything about shooting at the Olympics

The rifle, pistol and shotgun events make up the shooting programme at an Olympics. Here’s all you need to know.
By Jay Lokegaonkar

A sport that demands precision and focus, shooting has been a marquee discipline at the Olympic Games and is one of the original nine that featured at Athens 1896.

Shooting didn’t feature at the St Louis 1904 and Amsterdam 1928 Olympics but has been at all other Summer Games. Separate events for women were added at Los Angeles 1984. The sport is governed by the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF).

In recent times, India have been fairly successful in shooting at the Olympics. Indian marksmen won four medals at three consecutive Games between 2004 and 2012, with Abhinav Bindra becoming the nation’s first individual gold medal winner at Beijing 2008.

Although shooters are largely confined to one place during competition, the sport is nevertheless mentally and physically demanding.

“For a layman, when he sees a shooter, he thinks, there is no physical effort,” Athens 2004 Olympian Suma Shirur told Firstpost. “But in reality, there is a lot of effort.

There is a lot of physical activity that is not seen from outside. Because the most natural aspect of the human body is movement. If I have to control the movement, hold my body steady, at the same place for a long period of time, I need a lot of muscle endurance. That needs a lot of strength. For that, you need to have good fitness - Suma Shirur

Here, we explore shooting at the Olympics, the basic rules and the various events.

Gun specifications for Olympic shooting

Olympic shooting features three types of guns — Rifle, pistol and shotgun. In rifle and pistol events, athletes shoot at stationary targets at indoor shooting ranges. Shotgun, however, is held outdoors where shooters have to aim at targets hurled in the air.

All shooting is done from a prescribed distance -- 10m, 25m, 50m -- with athletes aiming for a bullseye on a paper target or flying ‘clays’ in the shotgun.

The rifle is single-loaded in 5.6-millimetre calibre (the inner diameter of a gun barrel), which is used across all events.

The pistol used in the 10m Air Pistol event is a single-loaded pistol in 4.5-millimetre calibre, whereas the ones used in the 25m events is a Rapid Fire Pistol in 5.6 calibre with a five-shot magazine.

The shotgun is a 12 gauge having a calibre of 18.5-millimetres. The gauge is a unit of measurement for firearms. In a shotgun, the gauge is determined by the number of equally-weighing spherical balls made from a pound of lead, that can be fit inside the gun barrel.

Shooting gear and equipment

Special jackets or coats are used by shooters to assist them while performing by offering stability. The surface of these special jackets is non-slippery and thus, ensure a better grip, especially for rifle shooters.

The extra-padding inside these jackets negates the effects of recoil, helping shooters improve their precision. The padding on the elbows provides a firm base, which is crucial for rifle shooters in the prone position.

Rifle shooters wear a special jacket and blinders for stability and focus.
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Blinders are used to improve focus and block objects from distracting their vision. One front blinder of a prescribed width is allowed for shooters. However, only shotgun athletes are permitted to wear side blinders or blinkers.

Types of Olympic shooting events

Shooting at Athens 1896 consisted of only five events, but the discipline has since grown in stature at the Olympic Games. At Tokyo 2020, it featured 15 rifle, pistol and shotgun events -- covering men and women.

Rifle: Events and shooting rules

In rifle shooting, athletes fire at a target with 10 concentric circles at a fixed distance. The event is further divided into two subcategories — 50m Rifle 3 Positions and 10m Air Rifle.

50m Rifle 3 Positions: Athletes shoot at the target from three different positions — kneeling, prone and standing. Each participant fires 40 shots in each of the three aforementioned positions within a timeframe of two hours and 45 minutes. The eight highest-scoring shooters move on to the medal round.

In 50m Rifle 3 Positions, athletes also have to shoot in the prone position.
Picture by 2012 Getty Images

10m Air Rifle: Shooters fire 60 shots at the target within a timeframe of one hour and 15 minutes, following which, the eight highest-scoring shooters battle it out for the medals.

In addition to the men’s and women’s categories, the 10m Air Rifle also features a mixed team event consisting of one male and one female athlete. Each team member fires 40 shots at the target within 50 minutes in the qualification round, after which five teams qualify for the final round.

Pistol: Events and shooting rules

Pistol shooting features three subcategories – 25m Rapid Fire Pistol, 25m Pistol and 10m Air Pistol. Here, athletes have to shoot with one hand only, unsupported.

25m Rapid Fire Pistol: This is a men’s only event where shooters have to fire shots successively over short periods of eight, six and four seconds. The qualification round features two rounds of 30 shots each. Eight shooters with the best score qualify for the medal round.

Only a single hand can be used in pistol shooting.
Picture by 2012 Getty Images

25m Pistol: This is a women’s-only event, and like the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol event, features two qualifying rounds of 30 shots each.

10m Air Pistol: The rules of this event are a replica of the 10m Air Rifle. It features a men’s, women’s and mixed team category. Shooters in the solo categories fire 60 shots within a timeframe of one hour and 15 minutes before the top-eight move on to the medal round. In the mixed team event, each team member fires 40 shots and the five top-scoring teams slug it out for the overall honours.

Shotgun: Events and shooting rules

Skeet and Trap are two shotgun events where athletes fire at an object -- measuring just 10cm in diameter -- called ‘clay’ flying at over 100kph. While both events feature the men’s and women’s category, Trap also has a mixed team event.

Skeet: Both male and female athletes fire at clay targets from eight different spots, each known as a ‘station’. The clays fly in from two spots, one on the left and another on the right end of the shooting range. These spots are each called a ‘house’.

The left house is called the ‘high house’ and the clays flying in from it are known as ‘mark’. The house on the right is called ‘low house’ and the clays are called ‘pull’. Athletes take 25 shots each in five rounds over three days and the six best shooters move on to the medal round.

Shotgun events are held outdoors with athletes shooting at clay targets.
Picture by 2004 Getty Images

Trap: Shooters fire at clays thrown in front of them from five different positions. The preliminary round of the men’s and women’s event is similar to that of Skeet. In the Trap mixed team event featuring one male and female competitor, every shooter fires 75 shots in three rounds of 25 shots each. The top six teams then battle it out in the medal round. The Double Trap, where two targets are released from the house at the same time, has been dropped from the Olympic programme.