Girl with a golden gun


“It is a big achievement for me. I have fulfilled my father's dream. Everything that I have achieved is because of him,” says Tejaswini Sawant after becoming the first Indian woman shooter to win a gold medal at the World Championship. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

When the selection committee, headed by the former sprint queen P. T. Usha, screened the nominations for the Arjuna Award in July this year, Tejaswini Sawant's case did not merit much scrutiny.

However, when the panel meets next year, it will perhaps find it very difficult to refuse the 29-year-old shooter the ultimate honour that every Indian sportsperson aspires for — the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. For Tejaswini has joined a select bunch of Indian stars such as Viswanathan Anand, Abhinav Bindra, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Karnam Malleswari, Geet Sethi, Pankaj Advani and M. C. Mary Kom, apart from a clutch of carrom players led by Maria Irudayam, who have all been crowned world champions. And with the exception of the carrom players, the rest have been honoured with the Khel Ratna award!

Having failed to win a medal either in the individual competition or the team event in the 50-metre rifle prone at the Commonwealth Championship in Delhi in February, Tejaswini crowned herself with glory by winning the gold medal in the event at the World Championship in Munich recently. And she did it with a record score of 597.

Hard work backed by sheer determination and appropriate guidance have led to Tejaswini's success. Going back to the Commonwealth Championship in February, it was a very difficult period for Tejaswini. She lost her father during the championship, but showed steely resolve to go ahead with the competition, in the knowledge that his body had been donated for medical study and that it would be preserved for a week.

Tejaswini's father had dreamed of her becoming a world champion, and the young lady set aside her priorities to pursue her dad's ambition.

Looking back, after winning two gold medals in air rifle at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, in 2006, Tejaswini had struggled to live up to her reputation. The fact that she had changed her rifle before the last World Championship in Zagreb (2006) did not help her cause and the score of 398 that she had achieved in Melbourne began to look like a distant dream for Tejaswini. She eventually failed to make it to the Beijing Olympics, though many felt that Tejaswini deserved to be there.

The bronze medal she won in the 3-position rifle event at the Munich World Cup last year with a score of 588 bolstered Tejaswini's confidence. She then went on to finish seventh in the World Cup Finals in Wuxi, China. But then, her confidence in the 10-metre air rifle was still missing.

For someone who had made the finals of both the air rifle and the 3-position events at the 2006 Doha Asian Games — though she was far from winning a medal in both — it was a difficult situation.

No doubt Tejaswini had come a long way from winning the team gold in the SAF Games in Islamabad in 2004, but she had to win a medal in a championship that mattered to be celebrated. And that happened on August 8, 2010, when she was crowned the world champion. She thus became the first Indian woman shooter ever to win the honour.

Tejaswani Sawant ... “My focus every time was on trying to improve upon my personal best."-K. SUDERSHAN

When the news that she had not been recommended for the Arjuna Award reached Tejaswini in Munich, the shooter quickly overcame the disappointment. In fact, her coach Kuheli Gangulee, who also doubles up as a fellow competitor at times, had prepared Tejaswini for any disappointment at the time of filling up her nomination form for the award. Kuheli, who has competed in five Asian Games, advised her not to think of awards. “If you perform very well, the awards will come to you. You don't have to go in search of them,” Kuheli exhorted Tejaswini.

Tejaswini focussed completely on her training. And with inputs from the Kazakh coach, Stanislav Lapidus, she was able to break the barriers with ease.

Kuheli had thoughtfully fixed an appointment for Tejaswini at the Lapua ammunition factory before the World Championship. And the barrel matching ammunition played a tremendous part in Tejaswini jumping from 585 in February to 597 at the World meet.

“My focus every time was on trying to improve upon my personal best. I never thought about winning a medal. I don't compete with the others,” said Tejaswini.

“Not many can take the load of my training. Tejaswini is a good student,” said Lapidus, who calls his tough training methods “black war”.

Lapidus took Tejaswini back to the basics and strengthened her technique. “It was not an easy decision to make: making her skip two World Cups so that she could focus on her training,” said Lapidus.

When she shot 595 in the elimination round a day before the individual event, Tejaswini knew she was in the zone. She realised that the world record was well within her reach. She knew the mistakes that she had committed in missing those five points. More importantly, she knew how to rectify them.

“It is a big achievement for me. I have fulfilled my father's dream. Everything that I have achieved is because of him,” said Tejaswini as she dedicated her gold medal to her father. “You train hard for years to reach a moment like this. It is a dream of every sportsperson,” she added.

The accolades have been pouring in; money may not be a difficult factor anymore, but Tejaswini has her feet firmly on the ground. She knows she has many more tasks to accomplish this season. She is keen to regain her place in the team for the air rifle event, and is prepared to work towards that. It is still her pet event, and she has the desire to regain lost glory in an event that had first catapulted her to fame.

With the backing of Olympic Gold Quest and Sahara, Tejaswini is quite content. She also has good support from her coaches, Kuheli and Lapidus, and being a good student she is able to capitalise on their rich experience.

If she can keep up the winning momentum, Tejaswini is sure to bring many more laurels to the country.



Born: September 12, 1980

2004 — SAF Games, Islamabad: Air rifle 488.0 (389) 6th; won team bronze with Pournima (391) and Kuheli (393).

2005 — First Asian Air Gun Championship, Bangkok: Air rifle 495.7 (395) silver medal; won team gold.

2006 — Australasia Cup, Melbourne: Air rifle 499.3 (397) gold. Beat Anjali Bhagwat 10.6-10.5 in tie-shoot.

Commonwealth Games, Melbourne: Air rifle 500.6 (398) gold; won team gold with Avneet Kaur.

World Cup, Resende: Air rifle 499.7 (396) 4th.

World Championship, Zagreb: Air rifle 394 (23rd); fourth place in team event with Avneet (397) and Deepali (390).

Asian Games, Doha: Air rifle 497.1 (395) 8th; won team bronze with Avneet (396) and Suma (390); 3P 612.9 (578) 7th; prone 581 (15th).

2008 — Australasia Cup, Sydney: Prone 591 gold.

2009 — World Cup, Munich: 3P 685.0 (588) bronze.

World Cup Finals, Wuxi: 3P 674.5 (577) 7th.

2010 — Commonwealth Championship, Delhi: Prone 585 (11th); fifth in team event. 3P 663.4 (565) 5th; won team bronze.

World Championship, Munich: Prone 597 (EWR) gold; 3P 568 (60th).