Marked MAN

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Shooting star... Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore is passionate about promoting the sport.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

RAJYAVARDHAN SINGH RATHORE. The name spells fame in the world of shooting. Credited with earning the country's solitary medal — a silver in double trap event — in the 2004 Athens Olympics, this 35-year-old, ace shooter has arguably triggered off a wave of popularity for the sport. So much so that the SAAP shooting ranges at the Central University in Hyderabad, venue of the recent 49th Senior national shooting championship, drew quite a good crowd every day. Not surprisingly, the affable and articulate Rathore was the cynosure..

Did things go exactly the way he wanted after the silver medal at the Athens Games? "Definitely. Except for two losses, I am pleased with my level of consistency," he told `The Sportstar' immediately after another predictable golden finish in the Nationals.

Rathore asserts that representing the country is his greatest inspiration. His obvious delight after winning the gold in the double trap event in Hyderabad was yet another indicator of how much he cherishes every competition.

"For me, every event is a major test," Rathore says. There is a reason. He shot a score of 191/200, which is one short of his career-best and 12 points more than what the gold medallist recorded in the Athens Olympics. Mind you, he doesn't hesitate to admit that even a shooter of his calibre was tense during the Nationals. "You cannot feel the pressure inside me while I am targeting in the double-trap. Somehow I hate to think of any slot other than being at the top," he remarks.

Sustaining a high degree of excellence over the next three years in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics to realise his dream of winning the gold in the `mother of all battles' is very difficult, Rathore admits. "It can be so for any sportsperson. But shooting takes a lot out of you. Yet, I am willing to take up the challenge. It may not be an exaggeration to stress again that the love and accolades that my countrymen have been showering on me is the biggest motivating factor for me. Everytime and everywhere I go, people walk across and congratulate me even now for the Athens silver. It makes me feel special and at the same time reminds me of the great expectations," explains Rathore.

What exactly is the future of the sport? "Frankly, I strongly believe that it is time we have small shooting ranges in different parts of the various states and not just confine it to the state capitals. The range maintained by the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh is truly world class. But if you want to spread the sport across the country, it is imperative to lure more and more youngsters to it by setting up ranges which may not necessarily cater to all categories of competitions. The whole idea is to provide the infrastructure at an affordable price for the lower strata of the society too," he points out.

"It is a myth that shooting is an expensive sport. If you turn professional, any sport will be expensive. And, for this reason, I request the SAAP to let the average shooter avail of the world class facility at Central University shooting range at nominal fees," says the shooter who has a Masters degree in strategic studies.

Rathore also dismisses the view that he is good in shooting since he was in the Indian Army. "This is a misconception. For instance, the Marksmen unit was established in 1972 in the Army. Then, why was there no other medallist in the Olympics for 32 years till I became the first one? More importantly, I started shooting only from 1998," he says. "This is another setback. Some people have the tendency to write off the hard work and determination that a sportsman puts in and attribute vague reasons for his success," says Rathore.

He has a message for the youngsters that shooting is the most objective sport of all. There is absolutely no element of bias in selection of a team since the scores reflect everything.

Is he really happy with the recognition he got after his Athens silver medal? "May be not. But, I hope I will get it very soon. It is certainly better now. But, it can be even more better," he says with a big smile. Now, Rathore's focus will shift to the forthcoming Commonwealth Championship in Melbourne where he is the defending champion. "Well, the journey continues. Let us see, what will be the final destination," he signs off.