Saniya Sheikh is a champion shooter, but the first year student of Lady Shri Ram College has been caught in the crossfire between education and sports.
The two-time national women’s skeet champion, who has won the national junior title seven times, had to recently skip the national camp to improve her attendance in college, and in the process lost out on a medal by one point at the ongoing Asian shotgun championship in Patiala.
To add insult to injury, her college still detained her for lack of attendance, which means that she cannot take the examinations.
“I am happy about it. Now I can focus on my shooting. It is my father who wants me to study in a good college,” says the 20-year-old Saniya, tongue in cheek.
Of course she has great regard for the sports head of the college, Meenakshi Pahuja, but says that the former swimming champion was herself helpless owing to the tough rules. “They made an exception for cricketer Unmukt Chand, but the authorities do not seem to care for the sports persons in other disciplines,” sighs Saniya.
Saniya shot 86 out of 100 in the women’s skeet event in the Asian championship, while the silver and bronze medals went for 87. “It was just one bird, and I missed two medals, including the one in the Grand Prix. If I can shoot this well after only two days of training, I am sure that I can do much better with good training,” says Saniya.
Coach Marcello Dradi of Italy who has been training the Indian shotgun shooters for more than a decade concurs. “Saniya was superb in the final, and shot the best score. The flash targets in the final have a different flight. With expert coaching in skeet she can definitely qualify for the next Olympics in Rio,” says Dradi.
In fact, the Barcelona Olympics gold medallist Zhang Shan of China who had beaten the men in the 1992 Games for the gold, the event that eventually forced a separate event for women, was coaching the Indian skeet team before her tenure ended. “Zhang Shan was brilliant. She was a world champion and had shot 200 out of 200 to win that Olympic gold. I liked her coaching a lot. I hope we get another coach soon. Trap coach Dradi was great and he helped me in handling the mental part and a bit of technique,” says Saniya.
Looking to make the breakthrough in the international arena, in which Saniya has already competed in two World Championships as a junior, apart from nine World Cups and five Asian Championships, the girl from Meerut is keen to improve her scores.
“I shot 65 out of 75 as a junior in the World Championship in Cyprus in 2007. I need to shoot a minimum of 68 now. If I work hard with the right coaching guidance, I can do it,” says Saniya who had won the bronze in the Asian championship in Jaipur in 2008.
Though she is supported by the Jindal group, Saniya owes it to her family for being able to pursue such a costly sport. In fact, Saniya shoots about 300 cartridges a day at times and borrows some from her father Suleyheen Sheikh or brothers Sheeraz Sheikh and Hamza Sheikh.
“Each leading shooter is allowed to import 15,000 rounds of ammunition every year. It is not enough for me. Of course, we are looking for more support to train and compete better,” Saniya says.
She is like any normal girl who spends a lot of time with friends and listens to music, but with a shotgun in hand she forgets the world. Incidentally, she avoids reading, as she feels that it would affect her eye-sight for shooting.