Gagan Narang on his 2012 London Olympics bronze medal: When mind and body are aligned

For me, that happened at London 2012. I’m forever grateful for the moment.

As I looked through the hole and pulled the trigger, bang it went and hit 10.7. I knew it was a done deal!   -  PTI

I was a 21-year-old boy when my Olympic journey began in Athens. That happened in a jiffy.

My next Olympics was in Beijing, where I was better prepared and had realised the importance of having a structure to my training. However, I lost the chance of shooting in the final on countback – a rule that was later amended.

Coming to London a two-time Olympic veteran, I was at the peak of my prowess. In my heart of hearts, I knew that it was the moment. I had visualised myself many times on the podium. The feeling of the podium was not new, but the feeling of an Olympic podium was very unique. When I visualised being there, all my cells used to light up with joy and bliss. But I had to put thoughts of joy and glory aside and get my mind aligned with my body to work like a clock. Shooting is a lot about controlling one’s mind and being in a space of complete calm.

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The pictures from the Royal Artillery Barracks in London on 29th July are still fresh and alive. I entered a hall of close to 1,000 cheering fans, most of whom were Indians. I had to shut out the noise.

I began well, but well begun is only half done. As the competition reached the climax, I was in third place, 0.3 point ahead of Peter Hellenbrand before the last shot of the 10m air rifle final. China’s Wang Tao was 0.4 short and I was aware that they were hot on my heels. I tried hard to focus and not be distracted by the others on the field.

In the final moment, I closed my eyes for one last time. As I looked through the hole and pulled the trigger, bang it went and hit 10.7. I knew it was a done deal! Caught in the moment was a silent relief. I sighed “Yes,” a sigh of relief. Wang hit a 10.4 and Hellenbrand 9.7.

I won the bronze medal with a final score of 701.1. Niccolo Campriani bettered me for a silver-medal finish with a score of 701.5 and Alin Moldoveanu won the gold.

My mother’s reaction later was, “You could have won the silver.” My reaction was an immense sigh of relief.

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When the podium moment came, after years of visualisation, I was in a state of calm, washed over with tiredness, the tiredness was rushing through all my veins. When I was asked by some journalist friends how it felt, I said, “Monkey off my back.” I had to find an answer to years of doubt and this was it. I bit the medal to not just pose, but to have a feel of it being truly mine. “Door Gagan ke chaon mein” was one of the most memorable Amul adverts the next day.

The destination, however, was not achieved in a day; it took years of toil, heartbreak and building for that moment, shot by shot.

I could not emulate the feat or better it in Rio, and the reason is there comes a time in an athlete’s life when mind and body are aligned. For me, that happened at London 2012. I’m forever grateful for the moment.

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