Paint by numbers: Guns and brushes land Anjum Moudgil Olympic berth

Anjum Moudgil likes her rifles spunky and colorful. Anjum Moudgil

Anjum Moudgil likes her rifles spunky and colourful. The pattern splashed across the stock of her weapon, an abstract art in blue-green with touches of lime yellow is her current favorite.

On Monday, she had a chance to hold up her striking piece of weapon before the gathering of players, coaches and enthusiasts at the Changwon International Shooting range. It was a visible celebration for her silver-medal finish at the World Championships, earning a 2020 Olympic quota place for the country.

Anjum had shot a total of 248.8 in the eight-woman final to get India's medal tally in the senior competition up and running. It also made her the first Indian woman to win a medal in the 10m air rifle event.

At the bottom of her inspired performance, lay the hurt over a missed opportunity. A fortnight ago, she'd missed out on a final appearance by just one point in the 50m 3 positions event at the Asian Games.

"It was really disheartening. But I came knowing I had prepared well enough for a medal. I'm just happy I could win a quota place in the very first competition it was offered," she tells ESPN.

Anjum has two more events to go - 50m prone, her pet event, and the 50m 3 positions - at this World Championships, which also means that her rolled-up canvas, vial of coffee decoction (smart travel replacement for oil) and set of paintbrushes lies untouched in her hotel room.

Fall in love with the process and results will be loved!

A post shared by अnjum (@anjummoudgil_art) on

You just need to flick through her Instagram account to know to know how serious an artist she is. There's the recurring Buddha image, eyes closed in meditative trip, often in calming shades of blue across across wall art, t-shirts, rifles, back of mobile covers and even a Van Gogh-esque 'Starry night' attempt.

Flicking through her Instagram account offers proof of how seriously she takes her art. You'd see her exhibiting them, taking orders for customized paintings and even offering miniature canvases to fellow shooters as gifts for medals won at the Commonwealth Games in April.

"Painting calms me like nothing else," she says. "I started out by painting a friend's café back in Delhi. I still have many matches to go here, so I'll paint once I have a lighter day maybe. I don't want to tire myself out by sitting for long hours before my canvas."

Much like how easily she gets bored of patterns on her rifle, she has chosen the variety of three competitive events over the safety and monotony of one.

Posture is a crucial part of Anjum's events. In the 50m 3 positions, much like the name suggests, shooters are required to fire shots from three different positions - prone (lying), standing and kneeling. It also allows her to feed off the other events - 50m prone and 10m air rifle, the latter competed in standing position.

An important part of her training regime also involves maintaining energy and developing stamina to last through three grueling competitive events. "I like shooting more than one event, it's very comfortable for me," says Anjum. "Just competing in one event can get really boring. It's not fun."

The 24-year-old from Chandigarh, who won a silver medal at the World Cup in Mexico this year, also holds a Masters degree in Sports Psychology.

"Today (Monday) I was very nervous. Not at all calm but tried to focus on my techniques, getting a good rhythm and handling my heartbeat."

Anjum shot a world record qualifying score of 1180 in the elimination relay at the World Cup in Munich in May this year, but fizzled out to finish sixth in the final. That disappointment, though, was preceded by a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in April.

Starting out in pistol shooting after being taken to the range by her mother as a child, Anjum switched to rifles following a stint at the National Cadet Corps which didn't have pistol facilities. Initially, she trained without a coach, learning the basics of the sport from NCC Commander Colonel Chauhan and later seeking out her seniors for help.

She was to find a mentor in former Olympian Deepali Deshpande, who took charge as junior national coach in 2013, promptly taking Anjum under her wing and grooming her to become the shooter she is today.

Deshpande almost speaks of Anjum with a maternal fondness.

"She came to me at such a young age (back in 2013), so it was easy for me to mould her," Deshpande says. "She hadn't had any formal coaching so there was no unlearning needed. So my work got easier. I don't have to sit behind her to tell her to do something. Often even before I get up to tell her what I think she should be doing, I see she's already doing it."

A medal here is no surprise, though, she says. "We have been preparing with the Olympics in mind. This is just something we pick up on the way. Over the years, she's learnt how to deal with pressure in tight finals, which also shows in her medals. Her finishing can get even better. Four years ago, she wasn't mature enough to handle an Olympics. But today, if you tell me the Olympics is in two-weeks time, I'll still be certain that she's ready for it.

Partly resting the blame on herself for Anjum's missed medal at the recent Asian Games, Deshpande, also an architect, who sketches for passion (she attributes the common artistic side to shooters' fine motor skills), has promised herself to never skip another of her favorite student's tournaments in the future. She's already keeping up with it by traveling to Changwon.

"The best part is she has complete faith in me. It makes my work so much easier. I know she will do just as she's asked to. It's also why presence can make a difference during big events. After the Asian Games she told me how she may have shot better just knowing that I was around. It made me decide never to miss any of her tournaments again."

A recluse by nature, Anjum only offered her coach a smile many months after they began training. Today, Deshpande feels 'privileged' that she's one of the few her student interacts with closely. "She isn't just quiet...she's very quiet. Earlier she would just come and stand next to me without saying anything. It was her way of greeting. It took her sometime to even smile at me. Of course as a coach it helps. I talk, she listens.

"But painting is what keeps her focused. The target is her canvas."