Heena Sidhu: Your biggest opponent in shooting is you yourself

Gearing up for the Olympics, shooter Heena Sidhu shares with Sportstar some details of her preparations, the challenges unique to the sport of shooting, and what she looks forward to gain at Rio.

Dr Pierre Beauchamp (right), Heena Sidhu and Ronak Pandit have teamed up for Heena's second successive Olympics appearance.   -  Special Arrangement

Supported by Olympic Gold Quest and a beneficiary of the Sports Ministry’s TOPS project, shooter Heena Sidhu will participate in two events at Rio Olympics – 10m air pistol and 25m sports pistol. Sidhu has been polishing herself for the big event by working with mind trainer Dr Pierre Beuchamp, who has been her aide for four years after the two teamed up in the Serbian city Novi Saad. Accompanied by international shooter Ronak Pandit, her husband and coach, the next stop is Berlin’s shooting centre for intensive sessions, before heading out to Rio next month.

Excerpts from a chat with Sportstar:

Q: Olympic competition, in any sport, is a contest between equals. Steady mind and steady hand on the trigger separates qualifiers and winner. Do you agree?

A: Absolutely. Almost 80 per cent of the participants have proved their calibre and ability to perform under pressure, That is how they qualified in the first place. In a sport like shooting, you have to win some of the toughest world level competitions to gain entry into Olympics. So every participant there has already done it before. It all comes down to who will be able to do it again on that day.

An Olympic champion may not necessarily be the best player in the world, but definitely the best at that given moment on that particular day. One moment will define years of work and calibre. Competitors who are able to digest this fact and maintain their performance will be the winners.

Q: You have undergone mind training with Pierre Beauchamp since 2012, having begun working with him before London 2012. Do you stick to same routine for Rio 2016 or have you added something new to preparations along the way?

A: I was a novice in the mental department before the 2012 Olympics. We were identifying the aspects of sport science that would benefit in shooting sport. Dr. Pierre was trying to understand me and what I would need, and how to achieve that. We had started on a path in 2012 which has become better by 2016. It is a constant process. Human beings are evolving every day and you are not what you were few years back or what you will be few years from now. So we have to keep figuring things that work for you at that period.

In shooting, it is very important to know and understand yourself - physically and emotionally. A lot of the result actually depends on your rest and recovery, your attitude, thinking patterns, etc. So first to understand what state is best for you and then practice entering that optimum state at will requires training. And every competition and long training sessions wear you out so we need to draw a balance so that we are fresh at the time of competition, most important in mental sports.

Q: For the first-time participant in an Olympic Games, the pressure to perform gets magnified due to various factors. How did you react to opportunity in London 2012?

A: London changed me as an athlete. I performed well in 2012 and just some more experience would have helped me enter the final and grab a medal which I missed so narrowly. It taught me so many things which other competitions cannot teach you. It was an experience I cannot put down in words but can only feel. It will definitely help me going into Rio.

People think of Olympics as a do-or-die situation and it makes performing even more difficult. Once the competition got over in London 2012, I realised that next day we still woke up and had a life to look forward to. Olympics is an important competition, but not the end of the world. This realisation came to me after my event got over. Dr. Pierre helped me and hence I could perform well. I was on the brink of making it to the finals but some things come only with experience.

Q: Four years later, older and wiser, has our outlook changed on the road to Rio? Among the competitors at London 2012, do you look forward to duels with anyone?

A: Your biggest opponent in shooting is you yourself. If you can shield yourself from your own mind, then you will do well. So as such I just look forward to better myself and gain a mastery over my process. I have a technique in place and need to keep polishing it forever. Sky is the limit. It is not just the technique, the physical training and mental and emotional control, all need to come together. Training is all about fine-tuning these aspects so that they can come together when you want. An athlete’s life is like a journey towards perfection. Rio 2016 will be another important and major station on my journey of achieving mastery. I am looking forward to it.

Q: There is a huge difference between expectations and reality. Having watched from outside so long, now looking at the world from inside, what has changed?

A: I think expectations limit you, burden you. I prefer focussing on my process and trying to do it in the best possible way at a given moment, and that gives me a certain result. My team (Ronak Pandit and Dr. Pierre) analyse it and make necessary changes or modifications in my process and then we work on it. My job is to simply work on my process. Instead of expectations, we set goals to determine if we are progressing in the right direction or not. To motivate and push us, we keep raising our goals. It keeps things positive and moving in the right direction.

Q: London 2012 gave you a mental picture of what an Olympic shooting looks and feels like. Were you familiar with the range? Do you know how Rio will look like?

A: We get an opportunity to compete at the Olympic venue about three to four months

before Games as one ISSF World Cup is held there as an Olympic Test Event. In April 2012 and April 2016 respectively, I saw and competed at both venues for the first time. The London range was shocking - it was a tent! Usually 10m ranges are indoors and air-conditioned, and hence insulated from the weather outside. April 2012 London was 10 degrees and we were all freezing inside this tent, something we have never experienced before. The wind shook the entire tent roof.

Rio is different, it looks more like a secret underground facility, full of concrete and gloomy grey in colour. Probably the banners and posters of Olympics will make it look better during the Games. During the test event it was pretty dark.

Q: Shooting sport is bringing in rapid changes. Music during competition for example, is a radical shift in ISSF thinking. Your view?

A: Music will be played throughout the competition and also in the finals. This rule came into effect only in this year and the ISSF (world body) has not even implemented this rule at most competitions. So we will be in Rio without any knowledge of what kind of music or volume will be played. The targets are different this time, so are the rules of the entire shooting event. Earlier, the targets had light falling on it from outside so everything was evenly lit, but now they have the light coming from inside the target so it becomes too intensely bright in the centre and less otherwise. More than the range, the competition itself will be new and different than last time.