Shooting star

“Before my Army life began, I didn’t know anything about shooting. You can give the Army full credit for my success,” says Olympic silver medallist Vijay Kumar. By Ashwin Achal.

Vijay Kumar, who was in Bangalore recently for an engagement, was in a relaxed mood, soaking in the appreciation of hotel guests as he strolled through the lobby. The 2012 London Olympics silver medallist accommodated photo and autograph requests with a smile, clearly at ease with the well-deserved attention he has gained after his feat.

While fans tried to get his attention and take photographs, Vijay spoke to Sportstar about the role of his Russian coach Pavel Smirnov, his introduction to the sport, a demanding training routine, and more. The 27-year-old shooter steered clear of the controversy surrounding his out-of-turn promotion in the Army, which only arrived after much public pressure. He instead preferred to highlight the significant role played by the Army in his success.

Question: When were you introduced to shooting and when did you get the confidence to take up shooting seriously?

Answer: I started shooting in 2003, two years after joining the Army. Well, it took me until 2005 to get serious about shooting, because before that, I was trying to gain experience and trying to learn what shooting was all about. After gathering valuable experience, I started to train very seriously and began competing in national and international events.

The facilities and support provided to shooters in the Army must be among the best in the country…

I am here in this position only because the Army gave me a chance to try a sport. Before my Army life began, I didn’t know anything about shooting. You can give the Army full credit for my success.

What would a normal day of training for a shooter in the Army consist of?

Normally, we wake up around 5.30 a.m. and train for an hour. This will consist of running or breathing exercises. A two-hour break follows, and then it is four hours of actual shooting practice. After another two-hour break, we train for two more hours. Then, at around 6 p.m., physical training — which includes swimming, strengthening exercises and gym work — follows for 90 minutes.

Does the disciplined Army background make it easy for you to cope with this demanding schedule?

It is not easy to train for seven to eight hours a day, but since we lead an Army life, we love to work hard. We take personal interest in our training as well; the drive should also come from within.

Tell us about your initial years with coach Pavel Smirnov.

The Army brought in Pavel four years ago. You see, it all depends on how much a shooter is willing to benefit from Pavel’s experience. There were around 400 shooters under him when he took over. I’d say I followed his advice 100 per cent.

How would you describe Pavel’s coaching methods?

Pavel always said, “Whatever inputs I give you, try it out and see if it works for you. If it helps you, you can continue with it.” There is no sport where the student blindly follows the orders of the coach. Depending on my physical condition and other factors, I take a call on following his method. If it is suitable, we train hard on this aspect and use it in competition.

So, he isn’t the type of coach who is always in the student’s ear?

No. he isn’t; not at all. Like I said, his theory is: ‘if you find my direction useful, use it’. Pavel is a good coach. Sometimes we fight and sometimes we agree. All this is normal in a student-teacher relationship.

You had won medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, 2010 Asian Games and at the 2011 World Championships. Would you agree that the 2012 Olympics came at the right time?

Yes, that’s right. My dad used to say, “When things are supposed to happen, it will come at the correct time. There is no need to hurry it up or rush things, just keep working hard”.

How important is mental toughness in shooting?

In precision shooting, you need control over your nervous system. You also need control over mind and body. It finally depends on the mind.

Do you practice any specific exercises to improve mental strength?

I do many exercises for the mind — meditation, breathing exercises, yoga etc. In terms of general training, it includes slow speed running for long periods, strengthening routines, eye focusing exercises, body stability improvement etc.

A shooter is required to stay still. How do you achieve this?

Yes, we need to stay still. For body posture and stability, you need to control the movement of the body. It is not possible to be absolutely still, but the aim is to be as motionless as possible.

It must be hard to stay still like a statue for long periods…

Yes. Again, we have to train for about four hours a day to try to stay still as a statue during competition. Also, in air pistol events, the reaction time is quite less. Hand-eye coordination should be great and you must be alert all the time. Alertness is vital because you must shoot five targets in four seconds. In terms of pure physical effort, to keep the hands raised for long periods with the gun, you need to build shoulder strength.

What can we expect from you in future events?

Look, all we can do is give it our best shot, we even give our life for success, but everything depends on what happens on the day of the event.