Mairaj, Angad rivalry stokes Olympic dreams
Mairaj Ahmad Khan and Angad Vir Singh Bajwa were the last two shooters left standing in the six-men skeet final at the National Shotgun Championships at the Dr. Karni Singh shooting ranges here on Friday. Two weeks ago, Khan and Bajwa were in a shoot-off for the gold medal at the Asian Shooting Championships in Doha. 24-year-old Bajwa, 20 years younger to the seasoned Mairaj, beat him for the gold.
On Friday, too, Khan blinked first and Bajwa was on target with a perfect score of 60/60 to win the national title. Khan, who had a perfect 125 in the qualification, missed two shots in the final.
The sizeable presence at the Tughlaqabad range cheered every shot, watching a new rivalry emerge in Indian shooting. Finally, some good news for Indian shotgun shooting—both Bajwa and Khan have also already booked their quota places for 2020 Tokyo.
Khan has been to the Olympics before—in Rio 2016—and came close to qualifying for the final.
Khan shot 121/125 in the preliminary round and was tied with five shooters in a shoot-off for the sixth and last spot in the final, before he faltered.
“This is a sport of perfection. You miss, and you lose. Today I missed and Angad won. Same happened in Doha,” Mairaj told Hindustan Times.
“When there is a shooter like Angad, he will not give you any chances. If I don’t miss then he will be under pressure. But I am happy skeet is at a good level in India.”
Khan recalls how Kimberly Susan Rhode, the legendary American double trap and skeet shooter with six Olympics medals, told him once, “don’t miss”.
“Every day I go to the range with the same approach—the focus is to score 125 (the maximum),” he said.
“If I miss a target during training I feel more pain because in training you don’t have pressure.”
Unlike air rifle and pistol, where India has dominated the international scene this year, shotgun shooting has long struggled to find its aim. With the emergence of a exciting young talent like Bajwa, there are signs of change.
“Last time I was alone at the Olympics but this time we are two,” Khan said. “Together we will train and we can push each other. We have been pushing each other for the last three years now. I hope in Tokyo we can both do the same job again (gold and silver).”
In fact, for a brief period in 2012, Khan had trained the teenage Bajwa.
In the build up to 2016 Olympics, Khan had been in good form, winning a silver at the Rio World Cup that year.
“When I won the quota last time, my average score was 124 plus,” he said, “and here today at the first competition after the quota I shot 125, but you have to start from zero every time.”
What hurts Khan is that he was left out of the government’s flagship Target Olympic Podium Scheme—which gives financial assistance to Olympic medal prospects—in 2018 after a poor performance at the Changwon World Cup.
“I have not got anything from the government because I shot badly at one competition,” he said. “It can happen in a sport but you cannot take your best athlete away. I gracefully accepted and moved on.”
Giving coaching to youngsters was one way for him to fund his own passion.
Italian Olympic champion Ennio Falco, the coach of the Indian Skeet team, is the driving force behind the new developments.
“Falco came in 2013 and told me, ‘Mairaj if you really want to achieve something, you have to empty your glass,” Khan said. “I started from zero, struggled, and then I won the Rio World Cup silver medal and Asian Championship medals and was almost in the final of the Olympics. It means I was on the right track. I am shooting the same right now.
“There is only one goal—gold in Tokyo. There is always the fear of failure. In competition, you will feel the pressure. Abhinav Bindra said once, ‘enjoy the pain,’ so I am enjoying the pain,” he added.