Shooting star, counting medals - the Mehuli Ghosh story

International 10m air rifle shooter Mehuli Ghosh, who won the ‘Young Athlete of the Year’ at the Sportstar Aces Awards 2020, shares her dreams and aspirations.

India shooter Mehuli Ghosh feels the Commonwealth Championships in 2022 will be a good platform for the shooting contingent.

India shooter Mehuli Ghosh feels the Commonwealth Championships in 2022 will be a good platform for the shooting contingent.   -  Twitter

 

International 10m air rifle shooter Mehuli Ghosh is only 19, but she is a hardcore professional. Adjudged the 'Young Athlete of the Year' at the second edition of the Sportstar Aces Awards this month, Mehuli thanked her parents and coach Joydeep Karmakar for the lessons.

In a candid conversation with Sportstar, on the sidelines of the event, Mehuli spoke on the Indian team, her aspirations, Tokyo Olympics 2020, Commonwealth Shooting Championships and more.

Apurvi Chandela fell in love with the sport when she saw the live broadcast of Abhinav Bindra bagging the first individual gold in Beijing Olympics. We heard that your back story is quite weird...

(laughs) Yeah... it is true! CID was and still is a popular TV show. I used to really like how they used to show those encounters and the stunts. I still am fond of action movies. Suspense and mystery interest me. Later, I got to know about the sport from one of my friends who had started training. It took almost a year of convincing at home because it is quite an expensive sport.

You are one of the youngest members of the Indian shooting contingent. How has the experience been like?

I feel very good to be a part of this team, especially for having seniors like Apurvi (Chandela) di and Anjum (Moudgil) di and friends like Elavenil (Valarivan). We bond so well. Yes, it might not seem like that, cause we play together and there is tough competition. But off the field, it is very different. All the seniors are very supportive and nice to me.

After beginning the qualifying round with a 3.4, you showed tremendous grit to make the finals and collect a gold medal at the Intershoot in 2019. How challenging was it?

It is important to keep calm. That was my second match in Intershoot and after the first ten shots, it was going more or less okayish- neither a disaster, nor super good. I would say it was hanging in balance. So, a bit of match pressure was there. But off the eleventh shot, I thought I hit the mark perfectly and I knew that it was going to be a 10-plus. But, I looked at the screen and it was a mere 3.4. I was like, ‘was that me who shot it?...what happened?’. I got confused. My junior coach Bibaswan Ganguly was there at that time, so I looked at him. He asked me, 'what happened?' I signalled I didn’t know.

You were clearly taken aback...

I looked back because there were chances that some other shooter might have cross-fired (hitting someone else's target), which I might not know but the coach or whoever is behind me will. But in my case, it wasn't so. I accepted it was entirely me and I can’t do anything now.

How did you switch back to being all calm and composed?

I thought it was okay...it’s gone. As Joydeep sir said, I just deleted it from my memory and (believed) it just didn't happen and went on with the match. After that, I made very good recovery. I qualified for the finals, finishing seventh.

And then in the finals, straight up from the seventh place you took the top spot. Astounding!

Before the finals, I had an hour break. I just decided that I have to beat the rest in the finals. I have to be on top. That was the only thing in my mind and I did it. From the first shot to the last shot, I was leading there.

You are one of the four women in the 10m air rifle discipline who made the World Cup final squad. How much did it motivate you?

It was my first final. It was really challenging for me because in that competition only the top shooters from a country get to qualify. There is a limited number of shooters, but only the top shooters from across the world. I can say that it was a really prestigious affair. So competing there was really motivating from one side, and from the other side, it was really challenging because you had to give your best shot. My qualification match was good and I walked into the final.

Mehuli Ghosh receives the 'Young Athlete of the Year' award from jury members Anjali Bhagwat and Sunil Gavaskar at the Sportstar Aces Awards 2020.   -  R. RAGU

 

But the finals didn't turn out as expected...

Yes, I had cramps in my right thigh during the finals and I would say it went pretty bad for that. So still, I was satisfied with the qualification because that was also challenging. Whatever the score was, I had to give it all. I am happy I participated. I learnt a lot. Like what to do and what precautions you have to take before certain things. It is going to help me the next time.

The good news for the shooting family is that the Commonwealth Championships in 2022 will be organised in India...

That will seriously help us. But I am happier that the sport is included. It’s not important where it’s being held. It’s happening and that is more important because I was very disheartened when I heard that they are doing away with it.

India shooter Mehuli Ghosh feels the Commonwealth Championships in 2022 will be a good platform for the shooting contingent.   -  FILE PHOTO/ Kamesh Srinivasan

 

You tried to become a swimmer first, and then later turned to shooting. How has Joydeep Karmakar Shooting Academy (JKSA) helped you evolve as a shooter?

They helped me a lot and I can say that I am the first student of JKSA. The academy is like a family. We all get along well and often have good chit-chats after practice. It’s really nice how we support each other so much. If I need help from the other shooters, they help me. And how much ever I can help, I do. Joydeep sir has been a pillar. I can say that he is the one for whom I am here today. How much ever mentally I am strong today, it is because of him. He has continuously been telling me from the first day that, ‘it’s not about the junior scores, it’s about seniors and that is why I am here in the senior race.’

Mehuli Ghosh delivers the acceptance speech at the Sportstar Aces Awards 2020.   -  R. RAGU

 

But you have shattered records in the junior circuit as well. Didn't he celebrate that?

Even if I shot the junior top-score in practice, he would say ‘this is not done and it will not be recognised worldwide. So better you work harder and get better in seniors. I will not see how much you score in juniors.’ So that was always the motivation – how much ever I score in juniors, you know, he was not happy.

Any memory of Joydeep which stands out?

In each and every step, every minute (he has looked out for me). Once, I remember in Delhi, I was having a lot of pressure before one of my trials and I could not sleep till midnight. I figured something was wrong. I just called him at 12 am. He answered the phone and I was like, ‘thank God, you answered, I was not able to sleep!’ He asked me what happened and then we had a small chat about other things that calmed me down. He asked me to listen to some good music and that worked. I plugged in and was asleep in maybe five minutes. He even made me talk to P.V. Sindhu once.

What did she tell you?

It was a telephonic chat ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She congratulated me on having made the cut and wished me luck as I was going to play at the Games for the first time. She gave me some advice and also prepped me up for the big event. She said there will be many sportspersons from around the world. There will be distractions too. But she said I should always keep in mind the reason for me being there, the job that I have in hand. She said I shouldn't lose focus. The interaction helped a lot.

India won a lot of medals at the South Asian Games (SAG). You won gold too but there were questions regarding the competition level. How would you compare an ISSF event or any other multi-discipline event with SAG?

In SAG, I would say the rest of the countries with whom we were competing, there was a lot of difference, yes. But I must say, from India, we were three shooters and we were all very strong. Shriyanka Sadangi came second and gave a really good fight. The scores were really high among the Indian shooters. All I can say was, it was not easy to win the gold medal.

What has been the highest point of your career so far?

Commonwealth (won silver in the 2018 edition) was the starting I’d say. If it is about the scores, then there was a time in 2018 and early 2019, when I was shooting continuously above the 630s. For me personally, that was really the peak of my shooting career till now. And about medals, in 2018, I got the maximum medals, CWG, WC, World Championships and the Youth Olympics.

Gold medallist Martina Lindsay Veloso of Singapore, silver medallist Mehuli Ghosh and bronze medallist Apurvi Chandela (from India) pose with their Commonwealth Games medals in 2018.   -  FILE PHOTO/ REUTERS

 

Does it bother you that just because you were competing in the Minimum Qualification Score (MQS) section — and not in the main qualification round — that you missed out on a Tokyo quota?

In a way, yes, because you are scoring well and the final scores tell that you are number one in qualifications. But you are just not playing the finals and going back home. So somewhere, it was a little frustrating. I was working on myself more and it was a different kind of challenge when you know that you are not playing the finals. But still, you have to give your best.

What is your immediate mission? Where does all of it end? The Olympics? Or as Joydeep says, a Laureus?

The mission is ongoing. Yes, and I am looking towards a Laureus. The mission is to see him satisfied enough to say one day that I have done it all.