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‘Sports can give focus, confidence to talented teenagers’

Grooming champions: Suma Shirur (bottom right) with the Indian junior rifle shooting squad at the Asian Airgun Championship in Taipei in April last year.

Grooming champions: Suma Shirur (bottom right) with the Indian junior rifle shooting squad at the Asian Airgun Championship in Taipei in April last year.   | Photo Credit: Welcome

Arjuna award winner Suma Shirur says youngsters who come into shooting arena need to be grounded

In an age when the young have multiple options laid out for them, taking up a sport can give them a sense of focus, besides building character and confidence, according to Arjuna award winner Suma Shirur.

“The youth today have a lot of distractions. They are very confused souls. All of them need a direction and sport can teach them a way of life,” said Ms. Shirur, who held the women’s 10m air rifle world record in 2004. “A sport has many aspects that cannot be learnt from books; it is not theory to be learnt by memorising, but imparts practical ways of handling tough situations in life. From my experience in shooting, I can confidently state that one shooting match is a miniature experience of life itself.”

Ms. Shirur was speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the 11th RR Lakshya Cup 2019 at Panvel. The invitation event featuring the top 20 rifle shooters from the country was held at Karnala Sports Academy. The 45-year-old Olympian and founder of Lakshya Shooting Club is familiar with moulding youngsters as part of her role as high performance Coach of the Indian junior rifle shooting squad since 2018.

Giving an insight into how success in any competitive sport can transform people, she said, “The first step we shooters take — just standing there (at the range), picking up the rifle and showing our skills — requires courage.” Speaking in front of 10 people can make most people uncomfortable, while in a sport like shooting, the whole country is watching the performer’s every move. “A million eyes are on you (at the venue and on live television) and it is the time to perform. Being able to deliver at that moment as a nation’s representative requires immense courage. Sports teach you to dig into your inner reserves; an inner power comes to the fore in a competition.”

Competing at the highest level internationally is familiar territory for Ms. Shirur. She shot 400/400 at the 2014 Asian Championships in Kuala Lumpur for the world mark. The same year, competing for the first time in the Olympic Games at Athens, she qualified for the final on a debut appearance with 396/400 and finished eighth in the 10m air rifle contest. Her training partner Abhinav Bindra struck the first-ever individual Olympic gold four years later, at the 2008 Beijing Games. Both were trained by Heinz Renkemeir and Gaby Buehlmann from Germany.

Ms. Shirur said the confidence that success brings with it was reflected in the performance of Aishwary Tomar (18), from Madhya Pradesh, at the Lakshaya Cup. He was last year’s juniors category runner-up, and on December 29, 2019, topped the seniors category at the Karnala Sports Academy. Ms. Shirur saw the same spark in the eyes of Divyansh Panwar, who at 17 years of age, is the youngest Indian to earn a qualifying place for the forthcoming Tokyo Olympic Games.

As a 16-year-old last year, Panwar, a shooting sensation from Rajasthan, had chosen to match his skills with those of his seniors in the Lakshya Cup and emerged champion. This year, he finished four places behind Tomar in the fifth position. Both teenagers are probables for a first-time Olympic appearance alongside the world’s best senior sharp-shooters at the Tokyo Games 2020. Other Indian probables for Tokyo include Saurabh Chaudhary, Manu Bhaker (both air pistol shooters are 17 years old).

On the teenage talent focused on shooting for India on the Olympic stage, Ms. Shirur said, “Gone are the days when we completed graduation and then took up a sport. The youth today start early and by the time they graduate, their sporting career is done with. When we have really young kids coming into shooting, it is not easy for them to understand the trials and tribulations of a sportsperson, the sacrifices required. They find success easily, and need to be grounded to handle the pressures, money and media attention.”

Ms. Shirur launched the Lakshya Cup to give rifle shooters a taste of competition, recognition among peers and prize money (₹1 lakh for senior winners, ₹50,000 for junior champions). As the sport enters an Olympic year, she is optimistic of shooters making India proud again.

Rajyavardhan Rathore was 34 when he stepped on the podium to receive a double trap silver medal at 2004 in Athens. Mr. Bindra grabbed the gold in 10m air rifle at 25 years of age in Beijing. Teenagers hungry for success are at the right age to hit the bullseye.

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 6:37:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/sports-can-give-focus-confidence-to-talented-teenagers/article30498553.ece

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