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Shooter Srikanth listening to inner voice loud and clear

Srikanth’s eyes shone with pride. With a big smile on his face, he gestured to his mentor Narang, and handed him the medals. Narang too was all smiles—he pointed to the gold and made a victory sign. He made another sign, and Srikanth nodded.

other sports Updated: Jun 20, 2019 11:54 IST
Avishek Roy
Avishek Roy
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Shooter Srikanth,Dhanush Srikanth
Shooter Dhanush Srikanth(HT Photo)

Dhanush Srikanth held his two medals, a gold and a silver, tightly in his fist. He walked straight to his mother, Asha, and then to Gagan Narang in the gallery, who were watching the 16-year-old from Hyderabad shoot with remarkable poise at the Finals hall of the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting range in New Delhi.

Srikanth’s eyes shone with pride. With a big smile on his face, he gestured to his mentor Narang, and handed him the medals. Narang too was all smiles—he pointed to the gold and made a victory sign. He made another sign, and Srikanth nodded.

“He was telling me that next time both medals should be gold,” Srikanth explained later through sign language and lip movement, which his mother interpreted.

Srikanth, who won the gold in the 10m Air Rifle junior category and a silver in the youth category at the Kumar Surendra Singh Memorial (KSS) Shooting Championship, is hearing and speech impaired. He hears very little, despite the cochlear implants and the hearing aid he wears. Often, a coach sits right behind him in the gallery and conveys through sign language the instructions of the range officers.

On Tuesday, Neha Chavan, a coach with Gagan Narang’s Gun for Glory academy, was on duty. When the names of finalists were announced, Srikanth sensed when his turn was coming and checked with Chavan, who gave a nod. It was game on.

Srikanth’s gold winning score of 252.5, if it were ratified, would have broken the current world record of 251.2, shot by Russian Alexander Dryagin at World Cup in Changwon in 2018. But Srikanth had began with a bang much before that, shooting well enough in the qualifiers to make the cut for all categories—junior, youth, and senior.

If more perspective was needed, there were 325 shooters trying to qualify for the eight-men finals, including an Olympic bronze medallist—Narang. He did not make the cut.

Srikanth’s hearing impairment has never come in the way of his athleticism. Growing up, he showed a keen interest in sports, and has been practicing Taekwondo since he was eight years old. He now holds a black belt.

“After the Gagan Narang institute opened in Hyderabad, we went there (in late 2016) and he started showing interest,” says Asha. “Now he is very serious with his shooting. He sets his goals and wants to win medals. You have to tell him to stop training.”

That passion shines through in the progress he has made since he picked up the gun two years ago. He won the Khelo India under-21 gold medal earlier this year to make it to the national junior squad. The KSS, where he won on Tuesday, is considered the second most prestigious domestic competition after the national championships.

“Now he is also part of our Project Leap Programme where we pick few talents who are already shooting at a certain level and give them specialised training,” adds coach Chavan.

Narang believes that Srikanth’s loss of hearing actually gives him an edge in shooting.

“Now his disability is his biggest ability. He is more focussed and he can channelize his inner feelings which will help him in his shooting,” he says.

Narang did not feel this way when Srikanth had first come to train under him.

“It was so challenging,” he says. “The most difficult thing obviously was to communicate. When I first saw him I was thinking how to coach him. But gradually then we developed our own shooting language (sign language) and he picked up fast.”

A lot of his training is done simply with visuals; Srikanth picks up minute details watching videos, and he often sketches out positions when he has questions about alignment or stance.

There is always the option of Srikanth competing in special category but that has been put on the backburner.

“He is doing so well in the general category,” says Narang. “Why change?”

With experience, the teenager is also beginning to feel more at home.

“Earlier we would instruct him when to start (during competition),” Chavan says. “Now in the last-two three months he is able to understand more and has started following the instructions of range officer. He is all on his own.”

First Published: Jun 20, 2019 11:53 IST