Apurvi Chandela, looking ahead to her first-ever Olympic shooting competition at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is one of those performers who embraces pressure to perform and relishes the weight of expectations. The 22-year-old will take part in the 10m air rifle event, the same event as Abhinav Bindra's.
Bindra, incidentally, has been Apurvi's inspiration and the reason for her to take up the sport.
She explained: “Pressure is a good thing. It makes you realise that something important is happening. Otherwise it (competitive shooting) will be like a normal day at the range. Pressure will always be there. I keep those factors aside and try to think about completing my task. I keep telling myself to focus on the task, results will follow.”
The national champion in the women’s 10m air rifle, Apurvi won a bronze at the World Cup last year in Changwon, South Korea, clinching a quota place for India. The Swedish Grand Prix later that year saw her strike gold, with a world record score of 211.2 (bettering China’s Yi Siling’s mark). Apurvi is aware that people back home expect her to carry the form into the competition at the Rio Games.
Bindra is the only Indian to win an individual Olympic gold medal (Beijing 2008) so far, and he will be part of the Rio squad, competing in the men’s 10m air rifle. Apurvi became fascinated with shooting after watching India’s only Olympic champion talk about his gold medal-winning performance in Beijing, on television.
“He is aware that I took up shooting inspired by his Olympic success. Now we are in the same team,” she said. “I read his book (autobiography titled A Shot At History ) and admire him for the drive he has after all those achievements. The effort he puts into shooting gives me a lot of motivation.”
The teenager from Rajasthan is one of two Indian qualifiers in the women’s 10m air rifle (the other is Ayonika Paul, her friend, teammate and rival at Rio). “We are friends. On the range, the focus is on the target. Shooting is an individual sport, where you compete against yourself. You can control only what you are doing, no one else can do it for you,” said Apurvi.
Olympic participation was not on the horizon when the nature lover, who enjoys watching sunsets, decided to follow her parents' advice and try her hand at shooting as a schoolgirl. “They took me to the shooting range in Jaipur and I tried both rifle and pistol. Rifle suited me,” said Apurvi, who is grateful to her parents for their support in the form of a shooting range that they built at home for training.
Things started happening from then on, including selection for the 2014 Commonwealth Games (Apurvi won the gold and Ayonika silver in Glasgow). “Till I got chosen for the Commonwealth, I went with the flow. From then on I realised that I had the responsibility and my focus increased.” She played basketball at school, took up shooting after the 2008 Beijing Games. Eight years later, she is months away from a shot at history.
Talking about the Olympics debut she is set to make, Apurvi said: “It is not that I have not taken part in big events. I have mixed feelings about Rio, after all an Olympics is an Olympics.”
For Apurvi, sports photography and sports writing were career options. But fortunately for Indian sport, she set her sights on competing in shooting and is aiming at a different target.