Keen to seek new challenges

Gagan Narang... aiming big.-NAGARA GOPAL

Gagan Narang is fourth in the 10-metre air rifle, sixth in the 50-metre three position and ninth in the 50-metre prone, according to the latest rankings of the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), the sport’s governing body, writes A. Joseph Antony.

From a podium finish last year, when he smashed the 10-metre air rifle record at the World Cup Finals in Bangkok, Gagan Narang has got off to a spectacular start this year, which has propelled him to the world’s top 10 in three rifle events.

Following his splendid showing at the Changwon World Cup in April, Narang is fourth in the 10-metre air rifle, sixth in the 50-metre three position and ninth in the 50-metre prone, according to the latest rankings of the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), the sport’s governing body.

In the South Korean city, the sharpshooter, supported by the Olympic Gold Quest Foundation, set up by badminton and billiards aces Prakash Padukone and Geet Sethi, bagged gold in the 50-metre three position, his last shot landing the spoils, and a bronze in the 10-metre air rifle. That the magnificent marksman had figured in the finals of all the rifle events was a first by an Indian shooter, as was his 3p gold and winning medals in two events of a World Cup.

The freshness in his approach looks as new as the ribbons on his new Maruti Swift Dzire that stands beside his old faithful WagonR in the parking lot of his Begumpet apartment in Hyderabad. A leaner look reveals greater keenness to seek new challenges. A mirror-driven motorist, his eyes dart to and from the reflectors, striking a path that’s free from accidents. His cars are surprisingly free of dents, a rarity in the twin cities, known for their chaotic traffic.

An avowed foodie, the Air India assistant manager has made the swimming pool as the battleground in which to fight flab. “Reducing weight will benefit not only my shooting but studies in commercial flying that I intend to pursue between competitions. I hope to take up an MBA programme too,” says the Hyderabad crackshot, whose climb to the top has been consistent and for whom shooting will remain top priority.

In Delhi recently to apply for the Khel Ratna award, the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games quadruple gold medallist faced a dilemma when asked to list his achievements ‘briefly.’ Such was his body of accomplishments that to compress them in a single A4 size sheet seemed well nigh impossible. So he chose to restrict his triumphs to only those posted after receiving the Arjuna Award.

The multi-event gold medallist left for Hanover, Germany, for training and thereafter to Munich for the World Cup. He’ll, however, skip the Milan World Cup to give himself a well-deserved break, which he hasn’t had since the Beijing Olympic Games in August last year.

Featuring in the calendar brought out by leading weapon’s manufacturer Walther, the rifle ace has adapted well to the new stock of his Alutec. Such accomplishments wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, which is evident from his steadily advancing scores in the small bore events that he took up only of late. His latest foray has been into the 300-metre events, where he could replicate the versatility he has shown in his pet 10-metre air and 50-metre 3p and prone rifle events.

The exit of rifle coach Lazlo Scuzak upset his wards immensely, but Gagan’s achievements are bound to warm the heart of the soft-spoken Hungarian, who grooms his new flock in Iran. When asked what his goals would be for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and the 2012 London Olympics, Gagan turned out to be typical of his tribe that prefers to let performances speak, rather than make tall claims. “Watch this space,” he said, as he signed off.