Just as he shoots with economy of movement, Gagan Narang is laconic in his answers. The man who takes the longest time to warm up before unleashing his first live shot during competition, takes quite a bit of prodding before loosening up.
His coach Stanislav Lapidus had kept Narang away from everything except shooting in the lead-up to the Games. Now, even with the pressure gone and the deed done, Lapidus still clucks around like a mother hen the moment he sees a microphone thrust at India’s latest toast. A missing piece of kit, however, has the coach clucking off in another direction leaving the shooter alone for a few minutes. Your correspondent knows that Narang is too gregarious a fellow to turn down an old acquaintance and slips in.
Excerpts from the interview:
Feeling any different?
I am quite satisfied. There’s a big stone off my chest. I did what I came here to do. Quite happy about it.
Sleep any better?
I was always sleeping quite well, no change in the sleep (laughs).
More motivated now to continue shooting?
Of course, of course. This is only the beginning.
(Nods vigorously but refuses to go on.)
Did it ever weigh on you... not getting an Olympics medal?
What does it feel like now that you got it? Relief?
Yeah, definitely. I feel quite relieved. Been working so very hard for this elusive medal... it not being there in my cabinet... have it now. It’s a happy feeling. I was the first to qualify for London. It does make most sense that I am the first to win a medal in London (laughs). So, it feels good. Feels damn good.
Was there added pressure when other shooters won?
No added pressure as such. I mean, pressure is inevitable and when you have, say, 10 tonnes of pressure, if you have two more tonnes it doesn’t make a difference (in reference to the two medals won in shooting before). You already have the 10 tonnes on you, so... (laughs).
Did you ever feel 'why not me?', even as you were working just as hard?
No, not really (Grins). That’s the beauty of sport. It happens.. it doesn’t happen. I mean, you are asking me now because I won. If I didn't, you would not have asked me. But that doesn’t mean that I put in any less effort into the whole competition. It’s just that it translated into a win that particular day. If I didn’t win, I didn’t win. That didn’t mean I put in any less effort.
The fickle nature of attention you are paid by the media, does that ever bother you?
No, not really. It’s the nature of the job.
Anything you did differently coming into these Games?
Stayed away from the media (smiles wide). But, really, everyone was quite understanding. For if you guys don’t write, no one knows what we do. There is a huge change in the media perception in the country in covering other sports (than cricket). It’s a good change and hopefully if we continue to do well ... it’s a welcome change.
Being one of the guys on the verge but not quite there... did it ever bother you?
Oh, it was eating me everyday. People ask me what motivated me, well, what I won yesterday was what kept me going.
Was there envy when others won? It would be only human.
No, there was no envy. I don't have a problem if somebody else is winning. Absolutely not. I am happy. If Abhinav (Bindra) is in form or anybody else from our country is in form, I am more than happy. It is about getting a medal for the country, no matter where it comes from. It’s always an added good feeling when the effort you yourself put in translates into a medal. For some, it does. For some, it doesn’t. That’s all about luck and that’s the nature of the game.
But this time it’s yours...
Whether I won or not, I would continue working. I just kept believing that I'll probably get it someday. If not in these Olympics, then in some other Olympics. I am happy it came in this one.
But surely it feels better around your neck than looking at it around someone else's?
Always! (Cackles) Been shooting since ’97, it’s been 15 years now. About time!
How many breaks did you have over these years when you did not think about shooting at all?
Zero times. I have nothing better to do (laughs). I just punch holes in paper!
Did it feel different when you woke up today?
I felt quite light, yes. Felt quite relieved. But I need to keep my focus. I have two more events to go (50m rifle prone and 50m rifle 3-position).
Is there a certain feeling of gratification?
At least now I have the confidence that I can shoot straight a little bit (laughs). That I can be a shooter (laughs some more). Feels good to be in this league of people — of winning an Olympic medal. Yeah, feels good. Definitely!
What's it about, this constant keeping at it year after year? What's the driving force?
It’s about drawing a line and looking to put a full stop. Winning a medal is putting a full stop. You are working hard and ... oops! you are going to get it now from my coach ...
Just then Lapidus stalks into the arena and makes his tut-tutting noises. Your correspondent has by then done what he could for you.
Narang is in a far easier place than he has been for a long time. While he is not going to say it in as many words, it rankles any sportsman to see his peers get ahead even as his sweat fails to reap its own reward.
The medal sits easy on him. He is finally at peace with himself. And he's not even done yet. With the monkey off his back, look out for Narang to bound to new heights.
He says it’s only the beginning. He refused to elaborate on that despite attempts at rephrasing the question, despite cajoling. Perhaps now, Narang is comfortable with just his gun delivering his loudest statements. Watch out for more bangs.