The subedar in shining silver

Subedar Vijay Kumar of the 16 Dogra regiment took to shooting because he was meant to defend the borders of this nation. On Friday he chose to redefine the borders of his own achievements by nailing an Olympic silver.

Infantrymen shoot pistols, that’s what they are trained for. Over 25 metres, Vijay likes to do it at a level that is better than every other man in the world except one.

This has to be the most gruelling and nerve-wracking of all shooting events. The 25m rapid-fire event is the ultimate challenge for a shooter as you have just four seconds to nail five targets.  Vijay says

To put it in context, Gagan Narang had 75 seconds to take a shot during his 10m air rifle final. Of course, these guys have a far bigger target. The hit zone is five circles of 13cm spread over three metres. The catch, however, is the small window in which you have to shoot. This was the first Olympics that saw the introduction of this format, which first came around in 2009 on the international circuit.

What makes it even more pressure prone is the elimination format which comes into effect after four series (each series comprises of five shots and there are eight in total).

Thereof, one shooter drops out after a set of five shots till the last two are left. Vijay was assured of a medal when he and Ding Feng of China were tied at 24 points after the sixth series. The pressure that had built up steadily had seen the world record holder, Alexei Klimov, wilt by the fifth series — he actually got only two on target once.

Vijay could have relaxed, but he came up with four bullseye to sideline the Chinese who had got only three. That turned the bronze into glitzier silver.

The 26-year-old Vijay has to be one of the most poised, calm and unruffled winners of the Games. Or, perhaps, the poise and confidence came from sharing the room with Gagan, the bronze-medal winner in 10m air rifle.

He just raised his hand to acknowledge the cheers and smiled away shyly. The triple gold-medal winner at the Delhi Commonwealth Games is not much for theatrics as he only took the flag to pose for pictures at the insistence of the photographers. Call your correspondent traditional if you may, but it was a joy to see the respect with which this shooter handled the Tricolour. But, then, what else would you expect from an army man?

The rifle shooters wear stiff canvas jackets and trousers to eliminate the slightest amount of movement that may shift their aim just so. The pistol guys wear casual clothes, and as such it seems to be a purer form with less props to aid an athlete. One fringe benefit is that these guys walk like regular people, while the rifle folks resemble bodybuilder with their splayed arms and stiff-legged gait.

This man largely trains by himself along with coach Smirnov Pavel at Mhow with his mates from the Army Marksmanship Unit. Not for him too much new-fangled training at fancy facilities — though, he does train with the shooting team at foreign locales to pick up the finer nuances of his sport whenever a tour comes along.

Vijay’s victory is all the more heartening for he apparently does not believe too much in the much-touted brain gurus. He says he does not have a mental trainer and his disciplined mind comes from just being in the army! That’s another strike for the brave folks in olive.


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Vijay Kumar wins silver in 25m Rapid Fire Pistol

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