Shooter Rahi Sarnobat resets after “peaking too early for Tokyo”

ByAvishek Roy, New Delhi
Dec 09, 2021 09:17 PM IST

In great rhythm leading up to the Olympics, the pistol ace saw form desert her in Japan. Sarnobat is still grappling with the emotional scars as she rebuilds her game.

Five out of five hits. Rahi Sarnobat, inscrutable and calm, wrapped up proceedings in the 25m pistol final at the senior national championships with an unflinching accuracy earlier this week.

File Photo of Rahi Sarnobat.(Twitter) PREMIUM
File Photo of Rahi Sarnobat.(Twitter)

She was cruising in the final until Naamya Kapoor almost caught up with her, making the last series of five shots an exciting contest for gold. Kapoor, only 14, is the new find in Indian shooting. She became junior world champion in Peru in October and was competing in her first senior nationals. Sarnobat, 31, was shooting in her 14th nationals. The senior most in the eight-shooter final is still going strong.

With years of experience, Sarnobat knew what to do, at the business end and under pressure. She was bang on target—all five shots counted as a “hit” (a score of 10.2 or above is a hit). Kapoor missed three to settle for silver. Sarnobat finished with a hat-trick of national titles.

She was in similar form at the two World Cups this year–New Delhi and Osijek, Croatia. At home she won silver. In Osijek, a month before the Tokyo Olympics, she demolished a world class field to win gold. She had an impressive qualification score of 591/600 and in the final with 39 “hits” out of 50, one short of world record (40). Gold was within grasp by the sixth series, leaving the rest of the field to compete for second.

After that performance in Osijek, Sarnonat was primed for a shooting medal in Tokyo. But a month later at the Asaka Shooting Range when everyone expected her to peak Sarnobat’s form slid alarmingly. She scored just 573 in qualification, finishing 32nd to be eliminated from the final.

Four months on, she struggles to explain that dip, emotions continuing to rumble within.

“Till last month, I didn’t have any conversation even with myself about that day. It was so tough. On the day of pre-event training, I was very fine, confident and stable. I have seen much more pressure situations before. This wasn’t. There were so many competitions where I had not slept for two-three days before my match. Here I slept peacefully. All signs were that I was ready and that is why it affected me even more,” she says.

What compounds her agony is that she was very well prepared for the Olympics.

“Sometimes good performances don't mean medals. But the way I had prepared and the way I shot were so different. I don’t think I had been so well prepared for any competition in the past. But that is how it is.”

A few minutes into the chat, Sarnobat, an intense thinker, says perhaps she peaked too early. The Osijek World Cup was not part of her plans, but having contracted Covid after the Delhi World Cup in March, she was fighting fatigue and loss of confidence. Doubts crept into her mind whether she was ready for Tokyo.

“Because of one year (of Covid) my periodisation got affected. For almost 30 days I was in bed after the World Cup in Delhi. My breathing capacity was like 4 seconds or 5 seconds. So, I needed that one competition before Tokyo which can tell me “okay, you are back on track again, you are doing good and ready for Tokyo”. That was my motive but what happened was I got prepared much earlier, or I peaked a little bit before Tokyo in that competition (Osijek). That one competition I felt was a little tricky for me.”

“I have given it a thought on the basis of statistics, analysis, scientific reasoning and what not. I am sure I will be able to avoid that in the next cycle.”


The year’s second World Cup was not in the original plan of national coaches either as it was quite close to the Olympics. But the postponement of many competitions and the second wave hitting India (in April-May) forced the shooting contingent to make several changes. The final preparation of the shooters was affected. Sarnobat and a couple of other shooters contracted Covid after the Delhi World Cup ended on March 29.

There were long deliberations on whether a bio-bubble camp should be held in Delhi or in another city in the country or whether the contingent should move overseas. Finally, in the second week of May the 15-member shooting squad flew to Croatia in a chartered flight for a long 80-day camp. They were to take part in two competitions and then head to Tokyo.

Sarnobat had suggested that shooters return home from Osijek if the situation improved and stay in a camp.

“I said we can come back to Delhi, stay in a hostel (at the Karni Singh range) and have some time here. But NRAI (the shooting federation) had their own problems, and restrictions because of the Tokyo Organising Committee, if the squad went from India. There are so many ifs and buts. Had we got medals, we would not have discussed all this.”


The shooting contingent has been overcome by distress and regrets since their Olympic dreams were dashed with India not winning a medal in the sport. As they enter new competitions, they are still struggling to shake off the disappointment.

After Tokyo, Sarnobat was in two minds, whether to take a long break or just pick up her weapon and battle the demons within. She chose to return at the President’s Cup in Poland last month.

“Paris (2024 Olympics) is only three years away. There was no time to sit and cry. I am still fighting the thought that “I don’t want to shoot after Tokyo”. But gradually it is reducing with every competition. I am absolutely not thinking of performance at this point but this will help me get out of that zone. I am giving myself six more months to get back in terms of performance—thought process, motivation and passion all over again. By the second half of next year, I should be ready.”

Sarnobat is now busy putting together a team for herself. She is looking for a personal coach and psychologist to add to her support staff of a physical trainer and nutritionist. Last time she went looking for a personal coach was when she was coming back after an elbow injury that had kept her out for more than a year. She had hired double Olympic medallist and two-time world champion Munkhbayar Dorjsuren in 2017, making a sensational return by becoming the first Indian woman shooter to win gold at the Asian Games in 2018.

“I had a wonderful experience with her. I learnt so much and that’s why I feel I need a coach. After so many years in the game, I need somebody who has achieved much more than me—an Olympic medal or has coached Olympic medallists.

“There is just this much difference between being an Olympic medallist and not being one,” says Sarnobat, gesturing with two fingers to show the narrow gap.

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