Narang - A huge stone off my chest

Having failed in Athens and Beijing, Gagan Narang’s quest for an Olympic medal came to fruition in London.

Gagan Narang completely believed in the methods of his coach Stanislas Lapidus (In pic, right, celebrating with the shooter) in his quest for an Olympic medal. He stayed within the boundaries set, though he was overwhelmed by the manner in which the media built up Indian athletes as superstars in the run-up to the Olympics.   -  PTI

He is an achiever par excellence. He sets big targets and high standards for himself and thrives in pressure situations. Gagan Narang’s Olympic medal was overdue.

After having tried hard and failed in Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008), Narang knew that his chance was in London. He also realised that to win an Olympic medal one not only needed the will and technique, but also the right mindset. So he moved away from the media glare to focus on the London Olympics.

> Gagan Narang: Player Profile

“My coach has warned me that for each word I speak to the press, he will fine me $50,” the 29-year-old shooter had revealed in one of his rare interactions with the media before the Games.

Narang completely believed in the methods of his coach Stanislas Lapidus of Kazakhstan in his quest for an Olympic medal. He stayed within the boundaries set, though he was overwhelmed by the manner in which the media built up Indian athletes as superstars in the run-up to the Olympics.

“You guys are doing a terrific job,” said Narang, who believed that the profile of Indian sportsmen would automatically go up with so much attention.

Visibility is something very important for Indian sport, but Narang chose to go into hiding. He was on a penance. He was ready to go any length to win an Olympic medal. “Will you talk after each event?” one asked Narang.

“Maybe, you will not need me then,” was the self-effacing answer from the cherubic young man who always glows with positive energy.

Though he had two more events to go, Narang kept his promise to the media after winning the bronze medal. He interacted with the media at length, particularly the television channels. “It is a huge stone off my chest,” he said, revealing how much an Olympic medal had weighed on him all these years.

For a lad who shot to fame in the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad about a decade ago, Narang has grown into a phenomenon. He was 12th in Athens with a score of 593. In Beijing, he narrowly missed the final.

 

“It was a technicality,” he recalled. The miss hurt Narang so badly that he shot two world records, a perfect 600 in qualification and 703.5 in the final, in winning the season-ending World Cup Finals for the elite shooters in 2008.

Narang was also hurt that he did not get the Rajiv Khel Ratna Award for 2009, but ended up winning a World Championship medal in Munich in 2010, shooting 599.

“I was ready to shoot a 600, but I was disturbed,” said Narang of the Munich Worlds. He, apparently, was upset after being overlooked for the Khel Ratna.

At the London Olympics, Narang shot 598 on way to the bronze medal.

World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra was all praise for Narang’s ability to shoot big scores on the big stage. He said that he always believed the Hyderabad lad had the talent and tenacity to go all the way.

“An Olympic medal is an Olympic medal,” said Narang after an intense final against some of the best in the business.

During the Commonwealth Games at home he was so determined to win six gold medals that he opened with a world record 600 to beat Bindra for the gold. Of course, the prone event saw him miss the medals, as his partner in the pairs competition failed to deliver the required score. Narang by then had already collected four gold medals, the same as he did in Melbourne four years earlier.

In the Asian Games, he won a silver and a bronze in the last two editions. The gold is not far off.

For most of us who thought Narang was paying less attention to practising after he had opened an academy in Hyderabad and brought experts from around the world to help hone India’s shooting talent, it was a huge relief that the man could cut out everything and focus on his training.

For someone who was hesitant to say even ‘hello’ to you when one was talking to the other shooters in Athens, Narang has retained his personality. He treats you with the same affection and respect.

When congratulated for winning the bronze, Narang offered his medal saying, “You can hold it.” One can expect many more big moments from Narang.

Of Gagan and OGQ

 

Gagan Narang has a few firsts to his credit: first among Indian shooters to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, the first medallist in London with a bronze in the 10-metre air rifle event. He is also the first athlete signed by Olympic Gold Quest, founded by sporting icons Prakash Padukone and Geet Sethi, to identify and support Indian sportspersons with potential to win medals in the Olympics.

Talking of Gagan, who joined OGQ in 2007, hockey Olympian Viren Rasquinha (in pic), the CEO of OGQ, said, “Gagan knows all the nuances and technical aspects of shooting. He is also a great mentor to youngsters and will make an excellent coach one day. We need world-class Indian coaches for our young shooters. But that is far away, right now as Gagan can compete in three more Olympics.”

The OGQ spokesperson said: “He had been unsuccessful in two previous Olympics. Beijing (he didn’t qualify for the 10m air rifle final) especially was heart-breaking. He was one of the favourites for the gold but missed out on a final spot on count-back rule. Gagan’s composure, class and character stood out in the final round in London.”

According to Rasquinha, OGQ sent Gagan’s mental trainer to London during the event and his personal physio to Hanover before the Olympics and also during the Games. It also sent Gagan abroad twice for pellets and ammo testing last year.

“I think the emotional support that he received these last four years after Beijing is our biggest contribution, something that is underestimated in India,” Rasquinha said. (Nandakumar Marar)

(This article was originally published in the Sportstar issue dated August 18, 2012)