Esha Singh often gets reminded she is one of the youngest members of the Indian shooting team. All of 17, she understands that she will have to cope with great expectations, especially now that she bears the tricolour crest on her gear. However, by her own admission, the added responsibilities, instead of weighing her down, spur her on.
The ISSF World Cup in Cairo was Esha’s trial by fire. A senior World Cup debut is always daunting, with multiple LSCs (Live System Cameras) and a commentary panel scrutinising your every move, but Esha has always been the quintessential tough nut. After the Tokyo Olympics debacle, Esha’s performance in the Egyptian capital was like a whiff of fresh air. She won three of India’s seven medals — two gold in the 10m and 25m team pistol events as well as a silver in the 10m individual event — as the nation topped the leaderboard.
“It was really a big win for me... checked off my bucket list. A dream come true... I could only dream of winning in the World Cup earlier. It has motivated me to put my mind to bigger things. Age is no bar. If you can sacrifice and work hard, you can always do better,” Esha says on the sidelines of the Sportstar Aces Awards 2022.
She is lounged at the poolside of a luxury hotel in Mumbai with her father, Sachin, for company. Sachin has been a sportsperson, professionally racing off-road with Suzuki and Mahindra. He also runs a sports goods store in Hyderabad. He couldn’t be happier as Esha has recently managed to pip him on the count of trophies and medals.
Esha chimes in to explain why the Singhs are so closely intertwined with sports: “My father always wanted me to get involved in a sport because he felt it shapes you in a way nothing else can. It teaches you discipline and how to control yourself.”
Sachin doubles up as Esha’s mentor-manager and takes utmost care when it comes to her daily routine. “I get up early. Then I do some stretches. If there is time, I work out. After breakfast, I go for training which goes on till about afternoon after which there is a lunch break. Then whenever there is time I study a bit,” Esha informs.
Shooting is a sport Esha perchance picked up only in 2015. Amid the meteoric rise of Manu Bhaker, Esha blossomed away from the media spotlight. At the 2018 National Championships, Esha became the youngest shooter to win a gold medal in the senior category. What made the podium finish even more special was the fact that she beat a field that included Commonwealth Games gold medallists Heena Sidhu and Bhaker in the 10m air pistol event. In 2019, Esha came back with twin gold in women’s 10m air pistol from the Asian Junior Championships in Doha and Taoyuan. At the Qatari capital, she also finished atop the standings in the 10m air pistol mixed team event. After finishing third in the 10m air pistol mixed team event at the 2019 Junior World Cup in Suhl, Esha struck silver, two years later, in the 10m air pistol and 50m pistol events at the Junior World Championships in Lima.
“I loved playing badminton because I drew inspiration from Saina Nehwal. I went for tennis for a few years because I also idolised Sania Mirza. But then randomly on a Sunday morning, we went on a long drive to the Gachibowli Stadium. It was here that I saw a shotgun for the first time and that was the first time I got to know about shooting as a sport,” Esha says.
“The first time I held a gun, I felt the thrill run through me.”
The mention of pistol coach Ved Prakash Pilaniya’s name brings about a twinkle in her eye. His contribution in Esha’s growth, needless to say, has been colossal. “He has been extremely good. One of the best things about him as a coach is that he gives me the space which every athlete requires. He gives me a learning period. He doesn't sit on your head every time, asking you to abide by his instructions. He gives you the freedom to work on yourself and learn,” she says.
The sport of shooting requires immense mental conditioning. One’s mind has to be trained to modify thoughts and attitude in order to optimise positive thinking. Esha says: “I have a mental trainer in Vaibhav Agashe. He has been with me for a few years now and has been of great help. One of the main aspects of shooting is stability. Every other person feels pressure once in a while — your heart is beating, your palms are sweaty. The grip is important, so you cannot afford to sweat too much. When your heart is beating there is movement in the body. Even if your hands move a bit your shot is gone. The sport has taught me how to have more control on my mind. It is a 90 per cent mental game, close to chess.”
Although Esha fell in love with a sport which is far, far away from the fast lane, she enjoys go-karting. She also happens to be a Formula 1 aficionado. “Red Bull,” she chirps about her favourite team. “Yeah, I am not happy at all. But that’s okay. The season has just started,” she remarks when reminded of the Ferrari 1-2 at Bahrain Grand Prix.
Esha, a standard XI student of the Reqelford International School in Hyderabad, has to ensure her schedule doesn’t hamper studies. “I have a supportive school. My school always supports me when it comes to exams to the best possible extent. Even the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) is doing a great job when it comes to sportspersons. You can choose when to write your exam. Really grateful.”
Shooting isn’t a part of the Birmingham 2022 programme any more. A lot is uncertain when it comes to future competitions and selection. Esha, however, is optimistic. “The CWG cancellation hurts a little bit, but yeah, we have a lot of matches coming up. We don't know yet if anything is confirmed because of the pandemic but whatever it is, I will work hard and make the country proud and get more medals,” she signs off.
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