Growing up with guns, Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar is now dreaming of shining at the Olympics, having graduated to the elite level from shooting balloons in fairs and serving a one-year suspension at the start of his career.
The 20-year-old on Wednesday claimed the gold medal in the men's 50m rifle 3 positions event, consolidating the host nation's top standing in the ISSF World Cup here, a day after tackling "very difficult and windy" conditions in the qualifications.
"This will further boost my confidence ahead of the Tokyo Olympics," Aishwary said after his maiden gold in a senior world cup.
"Qualification was good but score was low, situation was not very good in qualifications, it was very windy and it has also started to rain towards the end, and that created difficulties.
"In the Finals, there was pressure but I shot okay." Son of a farmer father Veer Bahadur Singh, who loved collecting rifles, and the cousin of shooter Navdeep Singh Rathore, who has been a part of the Indian team in the past, he got attracted to the sport at a young age.
It was on the insistence of his brother that he got enrolled in the Madhya Pradesh Shooting Academy (MPSA), where he failed to clear the first selection trials in 2015. He was also suspended for an entire year for using faulty equipment in his debut junior Nationals in the same year.
But he came back strongly in 2016 and is rated highly by his coach Suma Shirur.
"I was feeling nervous today morning and ma'am said it's good that you are feeling nervous," said the shooter who felt "a vomiting sensation" before the finals.
The Bhopal lad shot 462.5 to win the top prize ahead of Hungary's world number one Istvan Peni (461.6) and Denmark's Steffen Olsen (450.9).
"There was nothing in my mind -- that I was competing with the world number one. We are all at same level now." Former India shooter Shirur said Aishwary "thrives" in the finals.
"Going back to the qualifications yesterday, it was very challenging because throughout our training camps, we did not have the wind situation that we had yesterday, and also there was no particular direction," Shirur said.
"It was very challenging but an extremely good learning experience. Ever since I started working with Aishwary the one thing we always spoke about is that we are never going to use the wind as an excuse and always going to take it as a challenge.
"I am really happy that yesterday after the whole event Aishwary didn't come out saying even a single word about the wind. That was a very positive thing. So, despite everything, he tries to put in his best effort." Shirur is also associated with MPSA and has played a role in Aishwary's steady progress, and calls him a "natural talent".
"He is very good in the finals, he has the ability to come on top. Also, in training, he had a similar score, but to be able to deliver when it matters is something we are very happy about.
"... But after making the senior team, coming into the world cup, entering the finals and then winning the gold... it has come earlier than expected," according to Shirur, who said the shooters will have to work a lot harder to achieve success at the Olympics.
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