Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore on his 2004 Athens Olympics bronze medal: In the zone

After remaining absolutely on the edge for years, I could just let go of my muscles and my body without the stress of the next competition.

I had already visualised myself on the podium with the Tricolour. I had it ready and requested for it. Such was the level of confidence.   -  AP

I started shooting at the age of 28, when most people are at their peak or thinking of retirement. It was my second career. I had spent a good part of my youth fighting terrorists in Kashmir. The daily rush of adrenaline, hunting and neutralising terrorists, could only be replaced by an effort at advancing India’s score from a bronze medal in Olympics to something better.

We did not have the best of equipment, facilities or expert advice, but I had years of real combat experience, military planning, discipline and a die-hard attitude. I was like a man possessed, with a single burning desire to excel in my sport.

Resources, knowledge and skill are all secondary when you have a singular desire to excel come what may.

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In 2004, the season started with the World Cup in Sydney in January. With no practice available, I stood for hours on the range with my gun in hand, imagining and going through my physical movements as if I was shooting in a competition. Another competitor, passing by, asked, “Rathore, how much have you shot?” It was almost mocking. I smiled back.

Three days later I won the double trap final with an uncommon margin. I also made the world No. 1 rank.

For months prior to August 17, my Olympic match day, every night before sleeping I would watch pictures of the Olympic range, visualising myself there, shooting, hitting every target. When I arrived at the Athens shooting arena, it was almost a homecoming.

With hardcore training under my belt, consistent performances, being world No. 1, 2 or 3 and never below, in the run-up to the Olympics, I knew I deserved my position on the podium. I had earned it, and so I was willing to die for it.

After the first two rounds of 46 and 43, I was placed 13th. After years of hard work, that position was not acceptable to me. I remember going out for my last round with an amazing amount of determination to shoot every target and bounce back into the final. My third round was very stoic. I was very focused despite very clear disturbances. I shot 46 and made it to the final: the top six without a shoot-off.

The final was the ultimate experience in my shooting career. I died a thousand times, but killed the negative thoughts every time to secure that silver medal.

I had already visualised myself on the podium with the Tricolour. I had it ready and requested for it. Such was the level of confidence.

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After the photographs, the dope testing, the interviews and catching the bus back, I remember there was a sense of great relief. Every single cell of my body was vibrating. It was a different sort of vibration. After remaining absolutely on the edge for years, I could just let go of my muscles and my body without the stress of the next competition.

When I called home, I could not understand the jubilation. I was so much into that zone of competing without fear of failure or hope of success. I sort of remained in that zone for way too long.

I talked to my wife Gayathri. After months, I was coming home and wanted to have a quiet time with the kids. I asked my wife not to tell others the flight number. She just laughed and said, “That is not possible now.”

As told to Kamesh Srinivasan