Elavenil rediscovers “happy shooting” days as Paris beckons - Hindustan Times
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Elavenil rediscovers “happy shooting” days as Paris beckons

ByRutvick Mehta
May 19, 2024 09:09 PM IST

Her unofficial world record score to top the women’s 10m air rifle Olympic trials shows a fine comeback since the Tokyo Games low.

Elavenil Valarivan was beaming at the conclusion of shooting’s Olympic selection trials here on Sunday, greeting and hugging people with a smile as big as her score on the day. Why wouldn’t she, having just shot 254.3 in the last final (it is 0.3 points above the world record that wouldn’t count as one) and finishing on top of a competitive women’s 10m air rifle trials from where the top two are meant to be handed Paris Olympics spots.

File Photo of Elavenil Valarivan
File Photo of Elavenil Valarivan

There was, however, a bigger reason behind it.

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“I’m just enjoying the sport right now,” she said. “There are no longer days where I’m not happy shooting.”

That, for the Tokyo Olympian who rode through Indian shooting’s lowest ebb and has been through as much of a rollercoaster since, was the most pleasing takeaway from the month-long trials that has put her on the doorsteps of her second Games appearance. Elavenil, 24, has rekindled her joy of shooting over the last few months, the kind she felt when she would win medals for fun as a rising teen.

While most of India’s shooters who lived through the Tokyo nightmare in 2021 felt the high of winning medals at last year’s Asian Games, Elavenil didn’t even make it to the team. Around the same time, though, she pocketed a World Cup gold in Rio for her first individual World Cup medal in three years. She then won the National Championship in December and the Jakarta Asian Championships silver in January to medal at the tournament after five years (she won gold in 2019).

Through this period of misses and medals, Elavenil not only found the joy of entering the range again but also the desire to keep learning.

“It’s been eight years now since I’m competing in this sport. And every day that I go into the range, there is something new that the game is teaching me lately. There were times when I felt like I knew everything, that there is nothing more I could learn. But every single day since, I’m learning something new.

“The game took me to places where it made me happy, sad, frustrated...a lot of emotions were involved. For the past four months or so, I feel like I’ve been enjoying the game again. Even here, after being through so many emotions,” Elavenil said.

The trials, for which she trained with a lot more intensity in Chennai, were an acid test to the influx of joy in her shooting. She had to overcome a poor first qualification round — she finished last — and fend off a tough fight from younger challengers in quota holder Tilottama Sen, 16, Asian Games bronze medallist Ramita Jindal and Asian Championships winner Nancy, both 20.

“For a long time, I wanted to make it to the team and be a better version of myself. I had been working on a lot of things. I’m glad things are turning around and getting back to the way I want it to be,” Elavenil said.

Among the things she worked on post Tokyo was her mind, conditioning it to be more secure with the help of her psychologist. She still looks back at those forgettable Games — she finished 16th and did not qualify for the 10m air rifle final — with a touch of fondness while carrying lessons from it.

“Somewhere I feel that those learnings have played an important role in my consistency. One thing that Tokyo has taught me is to be mentally strong. That is playing a big part in my consistency and performance,” she said.

She has learnt to “push through” the bad phases; like brushing off the Asian Games non-selection by winning the Rio World Cup gold in September, days before Indian shooters’ medal rush in Hangzhou began. That relatively low-key medal got her belief back on track, and the Nationals gold — beating Ramita who had won the Asian Games individual bronze and team silver — and Asian Championships silver added wheels to it.

“There are going to be ups and downs. It is about how you accept the downs and push through it,” Elavenil said. “I knew somewhere deep down that I can do it again. It was about pushing through that phase.”

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