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Tokyo 2020: I hope the shooting debutants emerge stronger from this experience

It will be tough because we don’t know what the Chinese, Koreans and Russian will do but if they can perform to their potential, we should get a medal, or medals.
By Heena Sidhu
UPDATED ON JUL 26, 2021 09:26 PM IST
PREMIUM
Indian shooters Manu Bhaker (L) and Saurabh Chaudhary (R)(HT_PRINT)

It was just two days. People were elated on Saturday at Mirabai Chanu’s fantastic performance and at Saurabh Chaudhary ranking first in the qualification round of the 10m air pistol. Neither of these things--a medal on the first day and winning the qualification round--had ever happened in India’s Olympic history, so we had started well. One day later, I saw a lot of anger directed at our athletes and the allegation that they always buckle under pressure.

On one side, I am privileged to be part of the sport from which people expect so much that even a small lapse is not ignored. But at the same time, I also know that because the sport is so technical not everyone is aware of what is happening. You see shooters standing and you think all they are doing is inserting a pellet and firing. You don’t see the storm in their heads and how they are manoeuvring through it. That is where the real action is happening. What you know is the shooter’s past performance and you are thinking he/she will, in keeping with the law of averages, emulate that on the given day. That’s now how it happens.

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How many actually know that this was the first time that Saurabh faced the full might of all of the best shooters in the world? The country was expecting Saurabh to do well because he had won World Cup medals but let’s put this out there -- he was facing every other top player in the world for the very first time. In the Asian Games, he did beat South Korea's Jin Jong-Oh, who is a four-time Olympic gold medallist, but the rest of the world wasn’t there. Like it wasn’t in most of the World Cups during these years. The Chinese never came, for example, no one saw Pang Wei (who won bronze in the 10m air pistol in Tokyo) after Rio. Jin Jong-oh never did World Cups. All we knew was that 584-589 is the range Saurabh has been in and we can expect that. And he delivered. (Read full coverage of Tokyo Olympics 2020)

And to all those who think only Indian shooters can’t handle pressure, here’s some information: where was South Korea in pistol shooting at the Olympics? Jin Jong-oh didn’t qualify for the finals and he is like the Usain Bolt of shooting. Saurabh did. Another Indian shooter was dealt the worst of the cards by fate, dealt with the trauma of a broken pistol, lost 17-18 minutes, and ended up shooting 44 shots in mere 36 minutes. That’s like an asking rate of 10 runs per over for at least 30 overs of your chase in a game of 50-over cricket (as she faced a broken pistol on her 15th shot out of a 60-shot match). Still, she got close. So close that if she had an inner 10 as her last shot, she would have been in the finals and India would have praised her saying she has nerves of steel!

I think what Manu Bhaker did was amazing, not because of some number on the score sheet but because of her effort.

On to Saurabh. His grouping (the area where shots hit) was low in the final, meaning his gun was not zeroed properly during the sighters. It had nothing to do with the quality of his shooting but how zeroing of the gun works. A good grouping can choose a very wrong spot on the target. He could not make up for the initial loss of points because everybody else was shooting at the top of the game and he never got that window to cover up. It happens. He lost to good players and not to bad performance. An athlete can live with that, and so should we.

Looking forward, I hope the debutants emerge stronger from this experience. This is also the first time some of them are facing criticism. They have the talent and a much better start than we had in our day. Till now, their hard work and talent has paid off. But they need to work harder and smarter now. Among the things they can look at is mental toughness and training. Trainings should feel like matches and matches should feel like training. Simulation trainings and what-if scenarios need to find place in their trainings, because Olympics is all about adapting to worse possible situations.

I am still hopeful about the mixed events and the other events coming up. These players have felt the full might of the pressure already and will be ready. Yes, it will be tough because we don’t know what the Chinese, Koreans and Russian will do but if they can perform to their potential, we should get a medal, or medals. But whatever happens, remember to judge the performance and not the numbers.

(Heena Sidhu is the first Indian pistol shooter to be ranked world No.1, a world record holder in the 10m air pistol and the first from India to win a World Cup gold)

It was just two days. People were elated on Saturday at Mirabai Chanu’s fantastic performance and at Saurabh Chaudhary ranking first in the qualification round of the 10m air pistol. Neither of these things--a medal on the first day and winning the qualification round--had ever happened in India’s Olympic history, so we had started well. One day later, I saw a lot of anger directed at our athletes and the allegation that they always buckle under pressure.

On one side, I am privileged to be part of the sport from which people expect so much that even a small lapse is not ignored. But at the same time, I also know that because the sport is so technical not everyone is aware of what is happening. You see shooters standing and you think all they are doing is inserting a pellet and firing. You don’t see the storm in their heads and how they are manoeuvring through it. That is where the real action is happening. What you know is the shooter’s past performance and you are thinking he/she will, in keeping with the law of averages, emulate that on the given day. That’s now how it happens.

How many actually know that this was the first time that Saurabh faced the full might of all of the best shooters in the world? The country was expecting Saurabh to do well because he had won World Cup medals but let’s put this out there -- he was facing every other top player in the world for the very first time. In the Asian Games, he did beat South Korea's Jin Jong-Oh, who is a four-time Olympic gold medallist, but the rest of the world wasn’t there. Like it wasn’t in most of the World Cups during these years. The Chinese never came, for example, no one saw Pang Wei (who won bronze in the 10m air pistol in Tokyo) after Rio. Jin Jong-oh never did World Cups. All we knew was that 584-589 is the range Saurabh has been in and we can expect that. And he delivered. (Read full coverage of Tokyo Olympics 2020)

RELATED STORIES

ALSO READ | Tokyo Olympics Live Updates Day 3

And to all those who think only Indian shooters can’t handle pressure, here’s some information: where was South Korea in pistol shooting at the Olympics? Jin Jong-oh didn’t qualify for the finals and he is like the Usain Bolt of shooting. Saurabh did. Another Indian shooter was dealt the worst of the cards by fate, dealt with the trauma of a broken pistol, lost 17-18 minutes, and ended up shooting 44 shots in mere 36 minutes. That’s like an asking rate of 10 runs per over for at least 30 overs of your chase in a game of 50-over cricket (as she faced a broken pistol on her 15th shot out of a 60-shot match). Still, she got close. So close that if she had an inner 10 as her last shot, she would have been in the finals and India would have praised her saying she has nerves of steel!

I think what Manu Bhaker did was amazing, not because of some number on the score sheet but because of her effort.

On to Saurabh. His grouping (the area where shots hit) was low in the final, meaning his gun was not zeroed properly during the sighters. It had nothing to do with the quality of his shooting but how zeroing of the gun works. A good grouping can choose a very wrong spot on the target. He could not make up for the initial loss of points because everybody else was shooting at the top of the game and he never got that window to cover up. It happens. He lost to good players and not to bad performance. An athlete can live with that, and so should we.

Looking forward, I hope the debutants emerge stronger from this experience. This is also the first time some of them are facing criticism. They have the talent and a much better start than we had in our day. Till now, their hard work and talent has paid off. But they need to work harder and smarter now. Among the things they can look at is mental toughness and training. Trainings should feel like matches and matches should feel like training. Simulation trainings and what-if scenarios need to find place in their trainings, because Olympics is all about adapting to worse possible situations.

I am still hopeful about the mixed events and the other events coming up. These players have felt the full might of the pressure already and will be ready. Yes, it will be tough because we don’t know what the Chinese, Koreans and Russian will do but if they can perform to their potential, we should get a medal, or medals. But whatever happens, remember to judge the performance and not the numbers.

(Heena Sidhu is the first Indian pistol shooter to be ranked world No.1, a world record holder in the 10m air pistol and the first from India to win a World Cup gold)

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