We are all set to board the flight to Beijing after months of globetrotting — sharpening our skills and steeling ourselves for the big occasion. As I take off for my favourite destination — China — where I have won two World Cup medals (a gold and bronze), I remember the day when I was drafted in as a last-minute replacement for the Afro-Asian Games in my home town Hyderabad, even as I was coping with the trauma of my grandfather passing away a day before my competition.
It’s been an emotional and interesting journey ever since and there has been a fair share of ups and downs since the fateful day in 2003. The sport has grown a lot and I have grown with it. In 2004, when I went to the Athens Olympics, I was a rookie. In the four intervening years before Beijing, I put in a lot of hard work. That has given me a rich harvest of medals, starting from the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
I’ve made great friends on the circuit with Samaresh (Jung) and Chilly (RVS Rathore), who are more like family to me. I have also taken up two new events — 50m rifle 3-position and 50m prone — and won some medals in them. But the lowest point of my career has been the lack of sponsorship, which hampered my Olympic training. There was light at the end of the tunnel when ‘Olympic Gold Quest’ took me on board six months back to support me till 2012. I am truly indebted to them as well as Indian Airlines-Air India.
In an individual sport like shooting, one always needs parental and family support. When I started out, a career in shooting was almost unheard of, but my parents egged me on.
Sunny sir shaped my career
Coaches always play a huge role in shaping careers. In my case, (national coach) Sunny (Thomas) sir has been extremely supportive as also (Szusak) Laszlo. After the 2006 Commonwealth Games, I bagged the World Cup gold in Guangzhou and shot my way to the world No. 1 spot. Life almost turned a full circle this year when I shot yet another medal, a bronze, in China.
I am saving my best for the Olympics. In between, I had a none-too-exciting 2007. Though I won a few competitions, but was far from my best.
‘Rivalry’ with Abhinav
My rivalry with Abhinav Bindra is a creation of the media. Abhinav and I are good friends on and off the range. If there was no one to push me hard, I wouldn’t have got a change to better my scores. Abhinav and I have been supportive of each other and I will be extremely happy if he manages to bag a medal at the Olympics.
This time, nine marksmen will be representing the country, compared to last time’s eight. Obviously, the expectations would be higher — also because of Rathore’s performance in Athens. All I can say is that each one of us has put in the hard work and has the capability to bag a medal. However, it boils down to the day of the competition. One bad shot and the world can come crashing down and a good one can get you millions of hurrahs!
All my co-shooters have experienced the taste of victory and Chilly’s been the sweetest! I would consider myself the youngest when it comes to the experience of Chilly, Anjali (Bhagwat), Manavjit (Singh Sandhu), Mansher (Singh) and Samaresh. They have been in this sport for a long time and have immense knowledge and experience. Avneet (Kaur Sidhu) and Sanjeev (Rajput) replace Suma (Shirur) and Deepali (Deshpande) in the team from Athens and, not to forget pistol shooter Samaresh, who too has won a quota for the first time. It’s time to fire now.