A Zen approach to shooting

The ability to keep things simple and approach everything with an uncluttered mind is the major strength of 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary.

Saurabh Chaudhary with his gold medal in the 10m air pistol event at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires.   -  International Olympic Committee

Within many constraints, India has achieved a lot in sports over the years, yet it has only one individual Olympic gold medallist in 71 years of Independence.

Many show promise, but only a few achieve true success.

In such a backdrop, here is a young man who has been on a gold-winning spree, providing a belief to everyone around him that winning an Olympic gold medal should be a part of his regular routine.

Young Saurabh Chaudhary has extraordinary talent. He has already achieved in his 16 years what many athletes don’t in a lifetime.

He is the world junior and Youth Olympics champion in the air pistol. His magical pistol has already found a place for itself in the museum of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Chaudhary also won the Asian Games gold in a highly competitive field where Olympic and world champions wilted under the intensity of the competition.

Indian shooting, despite its rich achievements on all platforms around the world, has had only a handful of Asian Games individual gold medallists, from Randhir Singh to Jaspal Rana, Ronjan Sodhi and Jitu Rai. Chaudhary and Rahi Sarnobat joined that list this time in Palembang, Indonesia.

Saurabh won the Asian Games gold in a highly competitive field where Olympic and world champions wilted under the intensity of the competition.   -  AP

 

“I have 100 per cent confidence that Saurabh will win the Olympic gold,” says his elder brother Nitin, who has been instrumental in guiding him, especially in shooting since 2015.

From the remote village of Kalina in Meerut, Nitin took Saurabh to meet coach Amit Sheoran, who runs a shooting centre, the Veer Samahal Club, under a tin roof, helping young men reach world standards with manual paper targets.

“There are many boys, some of whom are more talented than Saurabh. But when it comes to working hard with deep passion and devotion, there is no match for him. When everyone runs away around 10 a.m. unable to bear the heat under the tin roof, Saurabh used to practice even till 1 p.m., unmindful of the heat and the sweat. Many times you have to remove the shirt and banian (vest) to cope with the heat. Saurabh never complained,” Sheoran recalled about the perseverance of the young man.

To top that practice facility, Chaudhary set up one at home, between two rooms, a simple gadget to practise nonstop for long hours in search of perfection.

“Ours is a land of Arjuna, Eklavya and the guru-shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition). Like the way, Arjun saw only the bird’s eye, Saurabh trains day and night, with single-minded devotion. He has no interest in anything else. I could notice this right from the first day when he came to me,” said Sheoran.

The ability to keep things simple and approach everything with an uncluttered mind is the major strength of Chaudhary, who consistently produces world-class scores in training.

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“He does not come under pressure. It is always between him and the target. He does not worry about the achievements and ability of his fellow shooters when they stand on the same line in international competition,” his coach said.

“Even when I buy an electronic target for home practice, I will continue to train on paper targets. On paper you may know only 9, or 10, but on an electronic target, you know the decimal scores. The light differs,” said Chaudhary, putting things in perspective.

Quite strong, Chaudhary says he does not believe in running or training in the gym. “I do surya namaskar and yoga for about 30 minutes every morning,” he said with a smile.

The equanimity that he has will do a sage proud.

Chaudhary believes in the mantra of his coach: “This is not the last match. There will be a thousand matches after this. So, don’t worry.”

He practises for five-six hours every day, but doesn’t blow away 500 pellets a day in pursuit of perfection. “I shoot about 150-200 rounds a day. There is a lot of dry practice,” he said about training without firing actual shots.

“I didn’t know anything about shooting. It was his interest, when he saw his friends shooting. Seeing him work hard day and night, with ‘lagan, lakshya’, we bought him a pistol for about ₹1.25 lakh,” recalled Chaudhary’s father, Jagmohan Singh, a farmer who watches his son only when he is performing in international competitions that are televised.

On his part, Chaudhary has no distractions in this digital world, and allows himself the luxury of helping his father with farming whenever he gets time. He is truly a son of the soil. Sheoran captures the essence of Chaudhary’s approach to shooting as “bhayanak junoon.” It is simply dangerous passion, which has absolutely no danger attached to it!

The magnitude of his achievements may still be sinking in, but Saurabh categorically says his Asian Games gold medal has a special place in his heart, as it was fought and won among the men.   -  AP

 

From the state championships to the North Zone championships to the national championship and eventually to the international arena, it has been a smooth and quick passage for Chaudhary — in just three years. Except for the involvement of top-class coaches like Jaspal Rana and Ronak Pandit among the Indians, nothing has changed in Chaudhary’s approach. He continues to practise on paper targets at home when not preparing in the national camps.

“I am 99 per cent confident that Saurabh will win the Olympic gold and many more in the years to come. I leave 1 per cent to God,” Sheoran said with unflinching assurance.

Chaudhary is soft-spoken and respectful to his seniors. At the range, he makes it a point to touch the feet of his elders who greet or congratulate him.

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Simplicity in character, manners and style is supreme excellence. Saurabh Chaudhary has made achieving excellence a simple task. A Class X student, Chaudhary diligently keeps pace with his studies, having been advised on the importance of an academic education for a bright career.

But otherwise, his world is restricted to practice and competition.

Plans for the future

Saurabh Chaudhary doesn’t believe in looking too far ahead, and he is mature enough to keep his mind from anything other than shooting at the moment.

The magnitude of his achievements may still be sinking in, but Chaudhary categorically says his Asian Games gold medal has a special place in his heart, as it was fought and won among the men.

Equally, he does not believe he missed a chance to win the men’s World Championships gold, when he shot in such superb fashion to capture the junior gold.

“It was right that I competed among the juniors. Such a chance may not come in the future, when I may get many chances to compete among the men,” he said.

Chaudhary believes his Youth Olympics gold does not give him the right to stake a claim on the Olympic gold. He believes in the process and the only thing occupying his mind is an Olympic berth that would give him a chance to fight on the world’s best sporting stage.

“I have not thought about anything other than shooting at the moment.

If I keep shooting well, I may not have to think about anything else,” he said.

Chaudhary does help his family with their agriculture work and thoroughly enjoys it. However, he has not decided on pursuing it after he sets aside his guns.

Chaudhary obviously has a lot of time to think about a world beyond shooting. But first he would love to realise his potential in the world of shooting.