Heena Sidhu's gold medal in the 25m rapid fire pistol event on Tuesday salvaged an otherwise unrewarding day for the Indian shooting contingent. Of the three other Indian competitors on the day -- Chain Singh, Olympic medallist Gagan Narang and Annu Singh -- none managed to get on the podium.
For Indian competitors, the sport -- at least the Commonwealth Games -- is regarded as a bit of a turkey shoot. Since the 1994 games, shooters have won 54 gold medals at the games -- the most in any event. Indeed, the three shooters who missed out had won nine gold medals between them prior to the 2018 Games. "Once you have won medals at the world level, the level of shooting at the Commonwealth Games isn't that high a standard," Jaspal Rana, coach of the junior team, had said before the games.
Yet even that diminished level has a challenge of its own. "It makes it harder when you know that you are expected to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games," says Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra. "It is even more mentally taxing when the expectations are from within yourself. That makes it much tougher. Specifically in shooting, which is such an internal sport."
Speaking in reference to Ravi Kumar, who fought back from the brink of elimination before claiming a bronze in the 10m air rifle shoot-off, Bindra gives an example of the pressures the shooters were under. "You wouldn't be talking about him had he missed a medal at the World Championships," he says. "The expectations themselves are distractions. There is bound to be more interest in the Commonwealth Games than at a World Championships."
Even the fact of competing in a multi-sport games as opposed to a sport-specific championship has its own challenge. "The atmosphere is different," he says. "Village life needs adjusting to. You aren't staying in a hotel where you come and shoot and go back. This isn't like a normal competition. These distractions are challenging particularly in shooting, which is an internally determined sport. You have to try to get the mind and body working together because this sport is all about feeling and balance."
All this only increases the burden when fighting back from low scores, as both Sidhu and Ravi Kumar have had to do. Sidhu too missed seven targets out of her first 20 shots before striking two perfect series of five shots to claim the lead. Even a couple of days ago she had teetered on the edge of elimination throughout the women's 10m pistol event, before clawing back to win silver. "This is difficult," Bindra says. "When you know you can be eliminated it takes a lot of energy to overcome that situation. Your batteries are fully drained when you come through a close competition."
Bindra says there isn't any easy fix to surmounting these obstacles. "There is no way out," he says. "You have to suffer through these difficulties. You might not always get the result you want, but that's how it is. For a shooter, it is about not giving up."