Abhishek Verma: The lawyer who picked up the gun

Abhishek Verma beat countryman Saurabh Chaudhary to win the gold medal in 10m air pistol event at the 2019 ISSF Shooting World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

Battling Abhishek Verma for the gold medal was Turkey’s Ismail Keles, 0.1 point behind. Abhishek closed his eyes one last time, aimed, fired and scored 10.7, while Keles wilted on his final shot to register a score of 9.7. Saurabh Chaudhary finished third.   -  ISSF

The focus was on the 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary as he calmly blazed to the gold medal in the 10m air pistol at the Asian Games on August 21, 2018. Abhishek Verma, 29 years old and making his international debut, gave India more joy in the event, bagging the bronze medal.

Amid the precocious Saurabh’s meteoric rise, Abhishek started blossoming away from the media spotlight in a sport he only picked up in 2015.

In the run-up to the Asian Games, Abhishek had been making his mark in national tournaments but was not known beyond shooting circles. The free-to-air live broadcast from Palembang changed that. A year on, he is one of the few Indians who have a realistic chance of winning an Olympic medal.

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Before the Asian Games breakthrough, Abhishek was buried in the pages of thick textbooks during his last semester of law school in 2017. He was pursuing a law degree after getting a bachelor’s in technology. But life had other plans because he had a hobby.

Ask him about this hobby and he mentions action movies: He decided to take up shooting originated mostly from this genre, and he held a pistol for the first time after joining a shooting academy in Hisar right next to his gymnasium.

Cut to the present. Abhishek has added two International Shooting Sport Federation senior golds and an Olympic quota from the Beijing World Cup to his CV.

The second of those ISSF senior golds came on August 29, when he competed in the final of the season’s last World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Saurabh was there, too. The Asian Games placings were reversed between the two this time.

Saurabh finished third, and as he moved out of the range Abhishek waited for the announcer to call for the deciding shot. Battling him was Turkey’s Ismail Keles, 0.1 point behind. With the tension and excitement getting the better of the once-silent audience, Abhishek closed his eyes one last time, aimed and fired. While Abhishek scored 10.7, Keles wilted on his final shot to register a score of 9.7. A perfect shot earns a score of 10.9.

Abhishek Verma played for the state, later the nationals, and then the All-India University Games. In 2017, he qualified for the selection trials and came up against the best shooters from the country.   -  ISSF

 

Abhishek stayed calm in victory, as the speakers in the range belted out Queen’s ‘We are the champions.’

Speaking to Sportstar from Rio de Janeiro, moments after winning gold, Abhishek, who called himself a “hobby shooter,” following the Asian Games bronze, admits life has indeed taken a turn.

“After the BTech and law courses, I thought I would become an advocate who would specialise in cybercrime. Yeah, shooting somewhat did start on the lines of why not try this out? Let’s see how it is, how this sport works.”

He tried and people soon noticed he was good at it. “After some good performances, everyone was like...yes, you are doing good so why not invest some more time in it? Of course, that got me thinking, ‘Why not take the hobby further?’”

Abhishek went on to play for the state, and later the nationals, and the All-India University Games. In 2017, he qualified for the selection trials and came up against the best shooters from the country. “Studies were still the primary objective,” he says.

Shooting, however, became the priority when he was selected for the Indian team in 2018. It wasn’t easy. “When I made the team, the scenario was different. I saw it as an opportunity to give back something to my country. No one would say no to that.”

However, Abhishek failed to make the cut earlier, when the federation announced the squad for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April 2018.

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Barely months later, Abhishek was included in the Asian Games squad. Many thought the change wouldn’t work, especially after his exit alongside Manu Bhaker as the sixth team in the qualification round of the 10m air pistol team event. Two days later he had bagged the bronze in the individual event, shooting in his jogging shoes.

Like most top shooters, Abhishek exudes calm as the pressure mounts. Talking about the final shot in Rio, with Keles within striking distance, he says, “There was a lot of pressure, but obviously I could not let that affect me. The yoga and meditation that we do are all for these moments, precisely.

“It is all about how to perform when the pressure is at the maximum on you. The difference was 0.1. For once I felt that if I mess this up all the efforts leading up to this would go waste. So, pushing all these thoughts and the thought of a medal to the back of my mind, I concentrated on the target ahead of me.”

The spotlight on teen shooters does not bother him. “It doesn’t matter whether you start early or late, to be very honest. The effort you put in stays absolutely the same in both the cases.”

He praises each member of the team. “We are like family. Wherever we go, we go together. Even while shopping we stay together. In the evening, we practise and train together as well. So the bonding that we have is great.”

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Incidentally, Saurabh is usually his roommate during tournaments. Saurabh is known to be notoriously reticent, but recently joined Twitter. Abhishek, who too wasn’t too active on social media, followed suit a few days later.

Was it a planned move? Abhishek laughs, saying popularity comes with drawbacks. “A friend called and complained I never told him I had an Instagram ID. I found out that someone else had created a fake account in my name. Then some Olympic Gold Quest officials suggested we create our own accounts on both Twitter and Instagram.

“Their use will depend entirely on us. We were asked to do this to prevent other people from creating and handling accounts pretending to be us. So, I created my Insta and Twitter accounts. It helps me stay in touch with friends and family as well.”

Looking forward to the Olympics, Abhishek says “more and more practise” will be the mantra. “Training and meditation, as I said earlier, will play a major role. The yoga routines will help achieve peak concentration. The main objective will be to increase concentration levels.”