Indian shooting attracts participants from diverse backgrounds for prestigious events like the 55th National Championships, champions Om Prakash (men's 50m free pistol) and Shruti Bhattepatil (women's 10m air rifle) showcase the depth of talent and interest in India for shooting.
Different lifestyles, different routes to reach the target.
The former is a confident armyman who greets shooting fans with a salute before and after his event. The latter is a shy college student blushing with joy after clinching her first National crown on home range at the Balewadi Sports Complex.
Om Prakash hones his marksmanship and tactical acumen under Russian coach Pavel Smirnov, contracted by the Indian Army for helping competitors gain the edge. “We are trained to shoot in different conditions, bright light or low light, rain or snow. So when the technical official offered the free pistol finalists the option of postponement due to light fading at the target end, I wanted to continue and with others hesitant to decide, the event went on as scheduled,” said the soldier, attached to 18 Jat Regiment.
Shruti wanted her delayed final, the women's 10m air rifle to be postponed. “I would have loved to come back the next day, using the time to prepare myself, but with one finalist not able to make it in case of postponement, we had to stay back and shoot,” said the Pune girl, grateful to father Tushar for giving up his bakery and ice-cream business to support her shooting career.
“He travels with me to the range everyday and takes care of everything. This title is for him.”
She started off under three-time Olympian Anjali Bhagwat (third position in women's air rifle) and then switched to the Balewadi-based Gun for Glory Academy. “Winning the title is special because I managed to beat my guru in placings,” said Shruti, part of the core group of national shooters training under foreign coaches like Stanislaus Lapidus engaged by the government.
Actual test looms
Men's free pistol winner Om Prakash feels his actual test will come at the Asian Championships next year. “Winning at home is okay, I will be happy to repeat this feat at the Asians. It is a quota event, doing well in alien conditions is the mark of a champion.”
He is ranked as a Havaldar, expecting promotion to Naik-Subedar based on a team event silver in 10m air pistol at the Asian Airgun Championships this year, followed by the Nationals success.
Om Prakash was happy to pocket Rs. 1000 from his coach, winning a Rs. 500 bet for every shot above 10.5 in the final (10.6 and 10.7). He will also earn Rs. 25,000 cash incentive on offer for first place finishers at the Sahara India-sponsored event, organised by the National Rifle Association of India and Maharashtra Rifle Association.
Shruti, also richer by Rs. 25,000, is just happy to be shooting, fulfilling her father's dream of having a sportsperson in the family.
“I chose to shoot because my mother did pistol shooting just for recreation. With so many Olympians competing in the air rifle now, I observe them closely and try to pick up something from each one of them,” said the collegian, studying business management in a college from Bangalore and exempted from attendance as long as she is shooting her way to the top.
Keywords: Indian shooting