A star in the making

In the World Cup Final in Munich recently, from a highly competitive field that had the season’s top-10 performers, Apurvi Chandela struck a silver medal, which spoke a lot about her guts.

High point... Apurvi Chandela is pleased as punch after winning the gold medal in the women's 10m air rifle event at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.   -  Getty Images

Apurvi Chandela (left), the silver medal winner in the women's air rifle event at the World Cup Final in Munich recently. Others on the podium are, Iran's Elaheh Ahmadi (centre, gold) and Serbia's Andrea Arsovic (bronze).   -  ISSF

Apurvi Chandela is a rare pearl in Indian sports. More familiar for her gold medal in women’s air rifle at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last year, the 22-year-old shooter from Jaipur took another firm step towards Olympic excellence with a silver medal in the World Cup Final in Munich.

Apurvi was the youngest of the four Indian shooters who made it to Germany (seasoned campaigner Gagan Narang, super performer Jitu Rai and fast growing Gurpreet Singh were the others). And from a highly competitive field that had the season’s top-10 performers, she struck a medal, which spoke a lot about her guts.

Apurvi was close to perfection, as she shot 10.5 and 10.8 to beat Valentina Gustin of Croatia and Andrea Arsovic of Serbia to first ensure the bronze and then assure herself of a better medal in the tie-shoots. For those unfamiliar, 10.9 is a perfect shot in shooting.

After she had led the 20-shot final at the halfway stage, Apurvi lost the gold medal to Elaheh Ahmadi of Iran by 0.6 point. Her total of 206.9 — not her best — meant that her average shot was 10.35. In qualification, she had 416.4 over 40 shots, for an average of 10.4.

It is not easy to shoot consistently right through the qualification and the final. The reigning Olympic champion and former World champion and Asian Games champion, Yi Siling of China, who had won the World Cup Final thrice, apart from a silver in the last four years, shot 421.1 in topping the qualifiers, but ended up seventh.

“It was a thrilling experience to win the silver from among such top class shooters,” said Apurvi.

Even at such young age, Apurvi knows pretty well the importance of staying focused on the technical process rather than allow thoughts of a medal to distract her.

“I was first focused on playing my qualification well to make the final. After that, my aim was to keep control over each shot,” said Apurvi.

She thanked coach Stanislas Lapidus for all the assuring guidance.

For someone who took up the sport after watching Abhinav Bindra’s interview on TV in September 2008, after he had won India’s first individual Olympic gold in Beijing, Apurvi has made rapid strides.

“We were out and I saw the news that Abhinav Bindra had won the gold. I saw his interview the following month, and by October, I had started shooting at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium range. I used to go there after school and train for a few hours. This went on for about a year,” she recalled.

Apurvi was quick to point out that nobody told her that anything was exceptional about her talent during that period. She was happy to train quietly without worrying much about guidance. She studied at Mayo College in Ajmer and Maharani Gayatri Devi School in Jaipur. Apurvi is now pursuing her graduation in Sociology (Honours) from Jesus and Mary College.

“My graduation is a question mark. My college is trying to help me take the exams for the second and third years. They have sought permission from the University. Hope they succeed,” she said.

With so many back-to-back camps and competitions, Apurvi does not have the time to attend college.

Apurvi took part in the World University Games (Gwangju, Korea), though, but missed the bronze medal while competing in a world-class field by 0.3 point.

Apurvi is an avid reader; she loves to read biographies of sportspersons. “I have read the book by Nadal. I have started reading Michael Phelps. It is interesting. I have read Shot at History, by Abhinav Bindra. It is great to know his experience, and how he got there. It gives me good motivation. I am reading Open by Agassi,” she said.

Apurvi has ready help on hand, from Gagan Narang and Bindra. Both of them rate Apurvi very highly.

“I speak to Gagan bhaiya a lot. Abhinav has told me to drop a line whenever I need help,” she said.

With help from Abhinav, air rifle gold medal winner at the Beijing Olympics, and Narang, winner of the air rifle bronze medal at the London Games, Apurvi was quite confident about preparing well for the Rio Olympics.

“I am already preparing for it. Competing with the top shooters of the world in finals is a great experience. I need to have more such experience,” she said.

Apurvi won a bronze medal in the World Cup in Changwon early this season to secure an Olympic quota place. She, thus, has revived the tradition of Indian women’s air rifle shooters that started with Anjali Bhagwat and was strengthened by Suma Shirur and Avneet Sidhu.

Anjali had made the Sydney Olympics final even before she had won medals at top international tournaments, including the World Cup Final gold.

Suma had shot a World record 400 at the Asian Championship while securing her Olympic quota place. She then went on to make the Olympic final in Athens in 2004.

Avneet made the World Championship final to secure the Olympic quota place, but was not at her best in her maiden Olympics in Beijing.

Apurvi has many good traits to be a champion. According to the shooter, her heart rate is slow even during competitions, which helps her execute the technique required for the strong shots.

Apurvi has also learnt to channelise the pressures of shooting in a positive way. “Everyone has pressure. I do have pressure. It is important to perform well. It helps in improving concentration and staying alert,” she opined.

When the situation warrants, Apurvi would not be averse to seeking the support of mind trainers to strengthen her ability to handle the pressures of the big stage.

“It is a great show,” said Abhinav Bindra on Apurvi’s performance in the World Cup in Munich.

“For the first Games, it is better to go with a clear mind and not think about it too much. That is the best way to succeed in the first Olympics,” said Abhinav, when asked how Apurvi should approach the Rio Olympics.

Keep things simple and continue with what is getting all the success. “Yes, I would say so. She is coming up well. So, should not suddenly change, as change takes time to produce results,” said the Olympic champion, who was crowned the World Champion in 2006.

Even though Apurvi strictly sticks to a pattern, she is amenable to making changes for the better. She opted to use a new rifle and had just about two weeks of training with it before delivering the silver medal in the World Cup Final.

“It was the same brand as my earlier rifle, which had a problematic trigger,” Apurvi said. So she managed to change things, without changing much!

Apurvi had been using that rifle from 2012 and had a lot of success with it. She won the National title twice in 2012 and 2014, finished with a bronze medal in 2013. After having made the National Championship by qualifying from the Mavlankar Championship in Jalandhar, Apurvi made rapid strides by keeping it simple and training well.

Before she won the National Championship, Apurvi made the National junior team and finished ninth in the Asian Championship with a score of 391 in 2011. By the following year, she pushed the score to 396 in the Asian Championship that helped her make the final.

Apurvi has a range at home in Jaipur and trains there whenever she is not in national camps. She loves to stay with her sister Tejasvi’s family in Gurgaon whenever she gets permission during camps in Delhi even though “it is a long drive” in heavy traffic.

“I train in the basement of my aunt’s home. Both our houses have a common gate. So, like my parents and sister, my uncle and aunt have also been very supportive,” Apurvi said.

While her sister studied first in London and became a Pastry Chef after studying in Paris, Apurvi has been content aiming at a black dot 10 metres away.

“Things have been happening so fast that I have not got the time to think about why I am doing it. I am still learning and trying to get better,” she said about her training (five to six hours in two sessions, almost every day).

The passion for cooking perhaps runs in the family as Apurvi’s dad Kuldeep Singh Chandela runs a restaurant in Jaipur called Spice Court. Tejasvi has two pastry shops.

Apurvi’s mother Bindu played basketball at the national level. Apurvi herself played basketball in school before shooting captured her imagination.

“There is a lot of passion for sports in the family,” said Apurvi.

Apurvi is calm even though she has courted success at a very young age. She has a mature head on her shoulders and has got the recipe for success right.