Coach Sheoran backs 'racehorse' Saurabh Chaudhary for Tokyo glory: 'No point fixing a car that's running smoothly'

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When 19-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary makes his Olympic debut at around 9:30 a.m. IST in the men's 10m pistol competition in Tokyo on Saturday, many back home will be glued to their TVs, nervously following his progress. However, Amit Sheoran, the coach who first introduced Chaudhary to pistol shooting in 2014 and who has worked with him since, will not be one of them.

"July 24th is Guru Purnima," Sheoran says. "It is a very holy day for me. There is an aashram near our village whose guru is someone I am a follower of. On Guru Purnima, I will be working in the bhandara (communal kitchen) there."

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Sheoran is not worried he will be missing out on what could be a moment of history scripted by the boy who trained at his one-room academy in Shamli village, in Uttar Pradesh's Baghpat district.. Nor is he nervous about how Chaudhary will fare.

"Even if as a guru I have a small bit of nervousness, with a shishya like Saurabh, that fear disappears. I'm not even thinking about the medal. That is the child's job. He has so many boons that I'm completely assured of him. He is paripakh (completely prepared). He is absolutely ready for the Olympics."

While competition pressure, especially at stage as high as the Olympics, is a real thing that most athletes struggle with, Sheoran is certain that Chaudhary will be unfazed.

"If you teach a child that dogs will only bite you, he will grow up to be afraid of it. But if you raise him in a way that he plays with it, he will always be ready to play. If a child enjoys studying, he will approach an exam without any nervousness. For Saurabh the shooting has always been something that is fun."

Would that analogy hold true even for a competition where the stakes are as high as the Olympics?

"Right from the time a child starts shooting, every tournament feels like the biggest one. Even when you go for the nationals for the first time, it seems like the biggest tournament. Competition is a competition. If you see it deeply, every tournament is a challenge in itself. That's how he has been raised. You cant take so much pressure that you start thinking of the medal rather than what is your job - shooting."

Sheoran has seen Chaudhary feel the burden of expectations just once in his life - ahead of the 2018 Asian Games.

"Before the Asian Games I noticed he was a little downcast. He wasn't normally like that. He is usually really bold. So I had a talk with him. I told him, 'Remember you can stand with them which is why you are competing with them. They aren't anything different. Never forget this not just at the Asian Games but even at the Olympics. Approach it as you approach a competition at home. Believe in your karm (work) and the rest will take care of itself'".

It is advice Chaudhary has taken to heart. While he's a top shot in the qualification stage, Chaudhary's ability to soak pressure is most apparent in the way he shoots in the finals of competitions. Over the last two years at the World Cups and World Championships, Chaudhary has averaged a score of 10.141 every time he takes a shot in the final event - no shooter competing in Tokyo has a better record.

What are the qualities that Chaudhary has that makes him so good in the final?

"What are the qualities that Arjun had that he was able to hit the eye of the fish? It is his preparation. It is also the way he deals with pressure. In the final, if you have even the moment of distraction, you will falter. And there will be distractions. How the thoughts come, even if the come change them to positive ones, that is something Saurabh knows."

Where his competitors will have sweaty palms and palpitating hearts, Chaudhary will have the coldest of poker faces. "Watch his face in the finals. If you sit behind him you will hardly know from his face whether he's shot poorly or well.

"Watch the way he walks into the hall. He has a confidence in his chaal (walk) which no one else will have. That's how you see if he has confidence or not. He has had that from an early age. Watching that walk you can say his mind is without fear. You see the way he walks normally and the way he walks in the finals range. It is different. He has a different confidence that in the range, that no one is as ready as him.

"Outside the exam halls there are children who are studying until the last minute and there are children who have studied their entire life. They won't study the day before the exam, they will sleep well and give the exam confidently. There is a difference between them. That is the difference between the others and Saurabh."

With just one night's sleep to go before the start of his competition, Sheoran doesn't plan to speak to Chaudhary for any last minute pep talk. Chaudhary, he says, simply doesn't need it.

"We don't believe in speaking everyday when he is outside. He is already well prepared when he is going for competition. What's the point of speaking everyday. There's no point trying to fix a car that is running smoothly."

Indeed, the last time the two spoke, a few weeks back, their conversation was rather brief but told Sheoran all he needed to know.

Q. Are things fine?

They are fine.

Q. Any problem with food?

No, no problem with food.

Q. Is training going well?

Yes, it's going well.

Q Are your muscles feeling well?


Q. Are you having any negative thoughts?

No, guruji

"Saurabh is like a racehorse. He is bursting with power and potential. If he sees everything, he will run everywhere without any purpose. I've raised him with blinkers" Amit Sheoran

"That's enough for me. I don't step in anymore than is needed," says Sheoran.

"I have the relationship of a guru with him. I can help him realise his potential but his potential and ability is his alone. I have to guide him away from the wrong track as much as direct him towards the right one. I have to make sure he doesn't fall into wrong habits, wrong thinking. I just have to check that. Saurabh is living away from his family, alone. The outside world is full of distractions. He has to stay focused.

"There is any number of wrong paths a boy his age and with the distractions he has, can fall into. He's like a racehorse. It is bursting with power and potential. If he sees everything, he will run everywhere without any purpose. I've raised him with blinkers. That's all he sees. He only sees forward. He doesn't see to the left or right. His only focus is shooting."

On July 24, Sheoran is confident Chaudhary will burst through the gates straight towards the finish line. That confidence is why he does not feel the need to see it for himself.

"As a guru I've done what I've needed to. It is now for Saurabh to fulfill his duty as a shishya."