Overcoming physical struggles, Kusale turns his mind to 'new beginning' at Paris - Hindustan Times
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Overcoming physical struggles, Kusale turns his mind to 'new beginning' at Paris

ByRutvick Mehta
May 22, 2024 09:19 PM IST

For a junior who broke through almost a decade ago — he won junior Asian c'ships and senior Nationals in 2015 — Kusale’s career has taken time to develop

Swapnil Kusale was among the earliest 2024 Paris Olympics quota winners, the 50m rifle 3P shooter's fourth-place finish at the 2022 World Championships earning India its third quota which has since swelled to 21.

Swapnil Kusale in action.(HT Photo)
Swapnil Kusale in action.(HT Photo)

For the four-stage Olympic selection trials from where several shooters couldn't translate their quota wins into Paris spots, Kusale came in with iffy health but a resolute mind. “Pakad ke rakhna hai (had to keep hold of the quota)," Kusale said.

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From 2022 when he grabbed the quota to 2024 when he held on to it by finishing in the top two of the trials, the Pune-based shooter has been through “ups and downs”. The most difficult down came in his physical struggles due to a long-standing health problem, which also surfaced before the start of the concluding set of trials in Bhopal.

A chronic tonsils issue kept flaring up over the last couple of years, leaving Kusale with extreme pain, fever and weakness for days on end. Various doctors were consulted until the trigger to the trouble was identified in December. Lactose intolerant, Kusale was told to completely stay off milk products.

“Whenever I would have any kind of milk product, this issue would aggravate. My tonsils would hurt and I’d be down with fever for days. It was especially difficult when it happened during competitions; I was unwell even in Bhopal after I landed. When your body goes for a toss, it affects your shooting too. I’m glad that I survived that phase, and got the job done here," Kusale said.

For a promising junior who broke through almost a decade ago — he won the junior Asian championships and senior Nationals in 2015 — Kusale’s career has taken time to develop. He missed out on the Tokyo Games in 2021 and a year later, won his first individual World Cup medal. Kusale was part of the 2022 Cairo Worlds bronze winning 50m rifle 3P team as well as the one that captured gold at last year's Asian Games, though he suffered dramatic individual medal misses in both those events.

Observing the way other athletes around the world tune their bodies to meet the demands of top-level sport, Kusale, who took to shooting at the Krida Prabodhini in Pune, realised the need to get stronger in his build and focus as much on physical fitness over the last few years.

“In shooting, we don't have that mindset of working too much on our physical strength; most of the focus is on mental work. But I realised that it was important to pick myself up physically, and to get my body to support my shooting. I got a lot stronger, and that helped my shooting technique as well," he said.

His mind, though, faltered on the cusp of what would have been two of his career's biggest medals. And in similar fashion at that. In Hangzhou last year, Kusale had history and a first Asian Games 50m 3P gold for India in sight before a shocking 7.6 saw him go from being on the verge of kissing gold to finishing fourth. Two years prior to that at the Cairo Worlds final from where he won the quota but not a medal, Kusale was placed second until the final shot, where an 8.2 dragged him down to fourth.

“Call it bad luck or whatever — that was something I had to accept," Kusale said, looking back at the Asian Games heartbreak. “That time, it was difficult to explain it. I had prepared as well as I could have for it. But at that point, maybe something in my mindset was lacking. But I believe there's no point looking back at that. I pulled myself out of it and trained in a way that I won't repeat it. That had to be my last," he said.

His coach Deepali Deshpande reckoned the problem wasn’t in the last shot per say but in the overall standing series in which Kusale would drop a touch after consistently shooting high 10s in kneeling and prone positions. While they’ve gone about rectifying and improving that area, for Kusale it is also about “staying in the present” in those high-pressure situations. “Just focus on the present moment,” he said.

At this present moment, Kusale has Paris in mind, edging closer to his dream of “representing my country at the Olympics” (final squad will be announced after NRAI's selection meeting). “I feel like I have something to look forward to and work towards. It's a new beginning,” he said.

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