He hit a career low during the recent World Shooting Championships after being denied the Khel Ratna for the third successive year, almost running out of time before rousing himself and bagging a bronze. He then returned home, still disheartened, and threatened to drop out of the Commonwealth Games that flag off in Delhi next month.
Recalling the tumultuous weeks, champion shooter Gagan Narang says, “It took a lot to will myself out of that low phase. The overwhelming support of family, friends and fans helped. But I never said that I wanted to pull out of the Commonwealth Games. I just wasn’t motivated enough after being denied the Khel Ratna for the third time. But now I am determined to give my best for my country.”
Narang insists that for a sportsperson it is important to have the family standing by you not only when you are smiling from the podium, but also when the chips are down. “My family always tells me not to look back,” he says. Has he ever thought of quitting the sport or regretted the decision to take up shooting? “Never!” he exclaims. “That would be really unfortunate.”
But after being denied the national honour for three years running despite top-level performances, have awards lost their importance? “These awards are like film awards. Be happy when you get them but not sad when you don’t because they don’t always go to the best performer,” he argues. “Of course, judging the best is not always easy when you have two or three champions in the running.”
Narang is the first Indian to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics and that, he admits, has upped the pressure. “I was the first athlete to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics too and it feels nice to have repeated the feat. But missing out on the finals at Beijing on countback is one dark memory I’d like to erase forever,” he sighs.
The Olmpics are still two years away. Right now, Narang is focussed on the CWG less than a month away. He insists that the Games are the best opportunity for India to groom athletes and prepare the grounds for future generation. In the last CWG, he bagged four golds, two in partnership with Abhinav Bindra. Now that his problems with the gun have been sorted out, he’s hoping for a repeat. “We’ll be performing before a home crowd. I hope large numbers turn up,” he says. “I am satisfied with my preparations. My coach is shortly going to be back to take us through the final leg. There isn’t much in terms of strategy and technique that I need to change.”
Going for gold
Bindra’s run-ins with the government and his below-par performance at the World Championships doesn’t bother him. “Abhinav is a champion shooter. I don’t have to pep him up. He knows his job and is too good to be underestimated,” Narang asserts.
How important is a CWG gold? “It’s important for me to better my Melbourne 2006 performance,” he reasons. “It’s always a high to win a medal, stand on the podium and watch the national flag go up.”
A day in his life
6 am: Wake up
7.30 am: Breakfast — Eggs, bread and butter, milk tea or coffee
8 am : Training, Balwadi Sports Complex, Pune, depends on the day’s programme
12 pm: Lunch — Veggies, roti, daal
2pm: Sleep or listen to music
3pm: Back to training
6 pm: Swim or walk
8 pm: No TV in hostel, so a walk to the market for a snack
8.30 pm: Dinner — Meat, veggies, roti or rice
10 pm: Listen to music that can soothe me to sleep
A film to watch...
Tomorrow Never Dies.
An actor who can play Gagan?
An actress you’d like to serenade?
A song you sing when you have the blues...
Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya…
A recent inspiring book...
Lose Your Weight Not Your Mind.
Must watch on telly?
Best loved item in my wardrobe...
Can happily do away with...
Fave sport besides shooting?
You want to go on a secret mission to...
Kazakhstan, don’t ask why.
On a desert island you’d like to be stranded with...
My fishing rod.
Never leave home without...
Touching my parents’ feet, a prayer on my lips and my BlackBerry.
If not shooter, you’d be...
No one knows that Gagan is...
An artist at heart.
Your chances of winning CWG golds on a scale of 5...
An idol you want to emulate...
For top shooters, there is decent money to be made now. With Sahara coming on board, Indian shooting has got a huge boost. We expect more sponsors to come along. Also, organisations like the Olympic Gold Quest sponsor the training of athletes.
To become a champion shooter...
Skills, passion, patience, hard work
Traditional diet on which one has grown up
Should be customised, according to one’s needs and levels
Where to learn
Don’t have any academies and institutes for the sport in the country
Shooting schedule for CWG, Delhi, 2010
Clay Target: Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range, October 6-13
Full Bore: CRPF Campus, Kadarpur, October 9-13
Pistol and Small Bore: Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range, October 5-13
Medals Won in CWG Melbourne 2006
Men’s 10m Air Rifle (gold)
Men’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions (gold)
Men’s 10m Air Rifle: Paired with Abhinav Bindra (1189 pts) (gold), new CWG record
Men's 50m Rifle 3 Positions: Paired with Abhinav Bindra (gold)