Sift Kaur Samra on target with career choice after swift rise

ByAvishek Roy, New Delhi
Sep 28, 2023 08:19 AM IST

The young shooter dominated the field to win the 50m Rifle 3 Positions gold in Hangzhou on Wednesday

Sift Kaur Samra has scaled the peak of a gruelling shooting event -- 50m rifle three positions -- at a pace few would have imagined. In 2021, she broke into the India junior team and competed at the junior world championships in Peru. Last year, she was in the senior world championships in Cairo. This year, she had already earned a Paris Olympics quota spot for India, before nailing an Asian Games individual gold and team silver medal with a world record to boot.

Indian shooter Sift Kaur Samra poses for photos with her gold medal during the presentation ceremony of the women's 50m rifle 3 positions event at the 19th Asian Games(PTI) PREMIUM
Indian shooter Sift Kaur Samra poses for photos with her gold medal during the presentation ceremony of the women's 50m rifle 3 positions event at the 19th Asian Games(PTI)

Samra made it look easy at the Fuyang Yinhu Sports Centre on Wednesday, firing high 10s for a dominating performance. Such was her level that China’s world champion Zhang Qiongyue, who won silver, fell way behind. Samra shot a world record 469.6 while Zhang could shoot only 462.3, the gap showing how the young Indian was in a match of her own. China seems to be a happy hunting ground for Samra. Last month, she won gold at the World University Games in Chengdu.

“The experience of competing against Chinese players in Chengdu was a big help. There, me and Ashi (Chouksey) had gold and silver, and now we have gold and bronze. It’s a very good feeling,” Samra said.

“My standing (position) is strong so I knew if I take the lead in prone, I can do very well. In the first round, my score was not that good in the first five shots. But I saw others were also not doing well, so I focused on getting better scores. I did not know I was chasing the world record, but the gold medal was in my sight.”

It was the first individual gold won by an Indian rifle shooter in the Asian Games. And it has come incredibly fast in a gruelling discipline that requires shooters to take aim from three positions -- kneeling, prone and standing. Considering that the 22-year-old took up the event only in 2019, having started with air rifle in 2016-17, it is a great achievement.

“She took up shooting when in school. A family friend introduced her to the sport,” says father Pawandeep Singh. “She did well in school meets and received certificates. There was no range here in Faridkot and we didn’t know how to go ahead in the sport. No one played the sport in our family. Now we understand the value of those certificates,” an emotional Singh said.

Sift though had found her calling early. She loved the stage, winning medals gave her a high. Standing on the podium, she sensed she had an in-born talent and wanted to give it her all. She insisted she wanted to continue shooting and her parents eventually gave in to her determination. They even built a 10m range at home, then converting it to 50m with paper targets.

As Sift rose in the sport, the family looked beyond Faridkot for coaching. She began to train under Deepali Deshpande, international shooter and former national coach, from 2018.

“My ambition was fuelled by the medals I won in the state and north zone competitions. I have never topped my class and there at the range, I was winning the top prize in every meet. It was a great feeling and I wanted to win more. I loved the sport,” says Sift.

She didn’t, however, neglect studies. It was a fine balancing act, but she broke into the senior India side and also cleared her MBBS examination almost at the same time last year.

When she was in Cairo last year, competing in her first ISSF world championships and chasing a Paris Olympic quota, she was told she had got admission in the Faridkot Medical College. Sift’s younger brother Sidkabir Singh, who took up shooting to follow in her path, had left it for medical studies. It was a big dilemma – shooting or studies?

“My parents at first were in two minds, whether I should concentrate on MBBS. I was also thinking, how far I can go in shooting. I was competing in so many international events, shooting in back-to-back competitions. It was so much travel that I was exhausted. But I was in the India team and had this great opportunity to qualify for the Paris Olympics. To do my MBBS at the same time would have been difficult. My parents were supportive and gave me one year for shooting.”

One year was all Sift gave herself to fully focus on shooting. The range was her home and she wanted to deliver every time. Last October, she won gold at the National Games, then won her first national title in Thiruvananthapuram beating a tough field led by Tokyo Olympian Anjum Moudgil. Every medal was proof she was in the right direction. This year, she won her first individual World Cup medal (bronze) in Bhopal, then finished fifth at the World Championships in Baku, enough to seal an Olympics quota place. Last month, she won gold at the World University Games in Chengdu.

“It is a not a surprise how she performed today,” said Deshpande, a 2002 Asiad silver medallist. “She has a great attitude, very focused when she is on the range. The good thing is she doesn't remember her bad shots, she moves on so fast.

“The Asian Games was her first multi-disciplinary event. I wanted to see how she copes with the pressure. There is so much external noise in these big events and that’s where I feel she has showed she belongs on the big stage.”

Off the range, Samra is fun-loving. Her Instagram account is filled with reels. She loves to travel and make friends. They are an exciting bunch in the team in the same age-group and they enjoy every success together.

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