Gurpreet Singh: A shooter by accident

From a remote village in the Tarn Taran district of Punjab to the podium of some of the most prestigious global events, Gurpreet Singh has had a dramatic journey. As the shooter, employed by the Indian Army and supported by Olympic Gold Quest, prepares for Rio 2016, he spoke about the journey in a chat with Sportstar.

"People in my village only came to know about shooting as a sport after I won a medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. After I qualified for Rio, my photographs were printed in local papers."   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

From a remote village in the Tarn Taran district of Punjab to the podium of some of the most prestigious global events, Gurpreet Singh has had a dramatic journey. As the shooter, employed by the Indian Army and supported by Olympic Gold Quest, prepares for Rio 2016, he spoke about the journey in a chat with Sportstar.

Question: After the 2010 Commonwealth Games medal, you had a dip in form. How did you turn things around?

Answer: After 2010, I was pretty confident that I can qualify for the 2012 Olympics. I don’t exactly know what went wrong. But I think the experiments I did with my technique and other stuff happened at the wrong time. It affected my performance and my confidence levels went down and that made it even worse. I struggled in 2011 and 2012 and then started making a comeback in 2013, played in the World Championship and Asian Games in 2014 and even won a medal in the Asian Games.

How did you manage to get your confidence back?

For that, I gave myself short-term and long-term goals during training and even in competitions. I made sure that the coach was always present when I was training to ensure that I was not committing any technical mistakes. The coach also worked on my focus and confidence levels.

That must have come in handy while ensuring an Olympic quota well in advance?

Absolutely. In 2015, I started a countdown for the Olympics once the World Cups started. There are four World Cups. One got over so three were left; then the second one also got passed by, two to go. I needed to earn the quota in one of the remaining two instead of waiting for tournaments closer to Rio. I was so determined to earn a quota in the World Cup that I kept on training even during rains in Slovenia. Even the coach was telling me to take it a bit easy but I was so obsessed with the Rio dream that I told him I will shoot 50 shots before stopping. That gave me confidence and helped me win the quota.

Are you focussing more on one of the two events you have qualified for?

I am training for both the events and I am sure I can try my best in both. Hopefully I can do well in both.

How was the response in your village to your Rio qualification?

People in my village only came to know about shooting as a sport after I won a medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. After I qualified for Rio, my photographs were printed in local papers, so people came home to congratulate my family that your child has been featured in the papers. Last time when I went home for a day, everyone kept asking me whether the news of me going to Olympics is confirmed or not. I assured them that it is confirmed. In my village, people go to work, come back home and sleep. They don’t know much about sport.

Going back, how did you start shooting?

Shooting started after I joined the army. Before that I had no idea about the sport. When I joined the army in 2004 and was undergoing training in Pune, an internal instructor had come to scout new talent. They told me to join the training system because I had shot well during training. But what they had seen was nothing but a fluke. I remember the first time I ever shot a gun, it was at a training range in Pune in 2004. I had lined up for a shot during combat training, the jawan (soldier) besides me took his shot and such was the sound that I inadvertently ended up releasing the trigger. I have no idea how the trigger got pulled but the shot hit the bull’s eye. And I was the only one who hit the bull’s eye. And that changed my life.

Did you always prefer shooting with pistol?

Pistol is usually a harder weapon. I started with 9mm free pistol. When I was given the pistol for the first time, I hit a very good grouping. But after the first round, for the next three-four days, I kept firing all over the place. Forget about bull’s eye, I didn’t even hit the target even once. I had no idea how I did it on the first day. But they told me that since you had done it on the first day, you can do it again. Then they started coaching me, one more candidate joined us soon afterwards and slowly we formed a team. Then we played an inter-services competition in Mhow and I got selected for the Army Marksmen Unit. There I got to shoot with precision weapons, got coaching and time to train.

Were you always passionate about the army ?

Indeed. There are many people from my village and my lane in the army. In fact, my lane is referred to as faujiyoka mohalla (armymen’s neighbourhood). Three of my uncles are in the army, my fathers three uncles were in the army. Of the four cousins who live in our area, three are in the army.

Did any of your family members play any sport competitively?

In our family no body had any clue about sports. Even in the village, everyone only played cricket. So when I won a medal in 2010 CWG, one of the ex-armyman who was watching the games on TV, went to my house to tell my parents that I have won a medal. That is when they got to know what I exactly do and I am making a career in shooting. Nobody had really heard of shooting as a sport till then in my village.

Are you parents convinced about your choice now?

I have sacrificed a lot for this. Many people tell my parents that while all the other armymen get two months’ leave every year, “your son hardly comes home; ask him why he doesn’t come home”. Very recently when I had gone home for a short trip, my father asked me the same. I told him not to listen to them and ask me directly if he had any questions about me. In the last decade or so, the longest leave I have had is for 40 days in 2013. That was for the exams. Since I joined the army even before passing the higher secondary exams, I thought I’ll at least complete my 12th standard.