Bhowneesh Mendiratta took a step closer to his Olympic dream after he secured India’s first quota in shooting for Paris 2024 at the ISSF Shotgun World Championship in Osijek, Croatia on Wednesday.
But Mendiratta knows the job is half-done, and the quota that came with his fourth-place finish doesn’t guarantee a spot for him in the Olympic team.
“I’ll do anything for the Olympic gold. Now, it’s going to be a different kind of programme, which we will plan in some time, and different kind of hard work,” Mendiratta tells Sportstar.
By ‘we’, he refers to others who have joined him on this arduous journey, starting with his father, who introduced him to the sport in 2014. Pankaj –a national-level shooter – was an air pistol expert before switching to double trap. Mendiratta used to accompany him to the range and took a liking to the sport. But tragedy struck when the double trap was dropped from the Olympic programme in 2017.
“My sole aim was to represent the country in the Olympics, so I took the harsh decision to switch to trap. It really started to affect my performance. But seeing how things have turned out, I don't regret it,” Mendiratta says.
Not many would have expected a shotgun wielder to bring in the first Olympic quota for the country. A trap shooter achieving the feat makes it more special as India had failed to secure a spot in the discipline for Tokyo 2020. Mendiratta credited his personal coach Daniele Di Spigno of Italy, mentor Ronjan Singh Sodhi, India’s foreign shotgun coach Russell Mark, and chief national coach Vikram Singh Chopra for rescuing him from tough spots at various points in time.
“I met Daniele at the Manav Rachna Shotgun Academy’s range. That’s where I had started shooting. Ronjan, one of the greatest sportspersons we’ve had, mentors me. Ever since Russell has stepped into the Indian setup, the whole scenario has changed. He gets the best out of each athlete... Vikram and I go back to the double trap days,” he says.
Even during the four-man medal tussle, Russell had his back, when Mendiratta was going up against Olympians Derrick Scott Mein of the USA, Rashid Hamad of Qatar, and England’s Aaron Heading. “I knew was I was shooting well and even Russell knew that. So, I had confidence. But it really got tight. All I had to do was just not look around and see the people who were shooting with me because those were guys who have been shooting for the last 15-25 years. I just had to focus on my performance,” says Mendiratta, who jumped from an unlikely 19th spot on the last day to make the next round with a perfect fifth series – 25/25.
Mendiratta narrowly missed out on a medal – by a bird in the second-last target. “I came here for both the gold medal and the quota for the country. I missed the medal but I'm quite happy with the way I performed. It makes me realise that even the slightest of mistakes on that platform can be dangerous. You can't wait for the other person to miss,” he says.
For now, Mendiratta is happy to soak in all the adulation coming his way. “I had to go for the semifinal, so I gave away my phone. I got it back when it was already an hour since the match had concluded. It was flooded with messages – from shooting mates, family, friends. I am still reading those,” the 23-year-old from Faridabad chuckles.
Mendiratta doesn’t have a mental trainer yet. He mostly does light exercises to ensure he is ready for competition. He says: “I'm more into keeping my body ready and doing some stretching. Sometimes I meditate. If you're picking up a gun which is 4.5-5 kilogram heavy for 150-200 times, you need a bit of energy. It must be balanced; it can't be like running for 10 kilometers in a day. You must do isometric exercises, not weight training. Weight training makes your body sore. You can’t afford that when the sport is all about minute movements.”
Mendiratta’s return flight from Osijek is set to touch down at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad on Monday, October 3, and he will take part in the shotgun (trap) events of the National Games 2022. The National Games schedule, especially that of shooting, received some criticism as it left shooters with little or no resting period between important events. However, Mendiratta sees it as a warm-up for tougher competitions coming his way.
“I see it as a challenge, with the formats and all having changed. Earlier, our competition used to be just for two days. And individual and team results used to be derived from the same scores. Now they have segregated all the events. The way this sport is progressing, we need to get that stamina of shooting regularly. So, it would be nothing but a great test of how well we can control and carry our energy and consistency into it,” he says.
“The National Games are happening after seven years. It's a very prestigious event. When it happened the last time in Kerala, I had just started shooting so it was a dream for me to represent my State at the NG back then.”