Shooting for stars

Shooting for stars

Quietly but steadily, Heena Sidhu has found her way to the top in the highly competitive world of shooting.

The 24-year-old dentist from Patiala was named the World No 1 in women’s 10M air pistol earlier this month, crowning a series of impressive performances that has put her firmly in the spotlight.

In the last one and a half years, Heena’s potential has been there for all to see. Her talent was never in doubt but it began to frequently manifest in medals at bigger events.

A world record at the Munich World Cup Final last year pitchforked her into the limelight.

In the event designed for top 10 shooters of the year, Heena beat the world champion Zorana Arunovic of Serbia by an impressive margin of 5.2 points.

Maintaining her form, she struck gold in the Asian Championships in Kuwait in March and claimed silver in the first World Cup of the year at Fort Benning, Texas.

The top ranking that followed made her the first Indian pistol shooter to occupy the No 1 spot in the world.

“I have been performing really well since the past one and a half years. It is just good to know that I am going in the right direction,” says Heena, taking a measured view of her string of successes. “I know I am not going to be World No 1 all my life. It is the same for any rank, be it 100th or any other. My aim is to be the shooter to the best of my ability.”

The highs she is enjoying now are a far cry from her disappointing run in the 2012 London Olympics where pressure and expectations overwhelmed her.

A shift in her mental approach gave her the grip and Heena, soon, was soaring high like a lark in the sky.

Heena admits London proved to be a learning curve in her career. She was given the Olympic quota place ahead of the Athens silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and went on to finish 12th in the qualification round.

“In fact, I had shot my best scores in my training. But it didn’t click on the day of the match. I put a lot of pressure on myself. That taught me a lot. I have changed my mental approach on how would I go to the big matches. It doesn’t help to put yourself in a do-or-die situation,” Heena says.

Heena started shooting only in 2006, when in 12th standard, but gave instant glimpse of her prowess.

“I won a bronze medal in my very first international event, which was the Asian Shooting Championship. That gave me the belief that I am good at it. I kept going, got coaches and slowly even got sponsors. Mittal Champions Trust helped me,” says Heena, who is now with the Olympic Gold Quest.

Over the years, Heena, who also won silver at the 2009 Beijing World Cup, has only grown as a shooter and a person.

“I require a lot of grooming even today but in 2009 it was just my pure talent that showed. It requires another sort of training or mental toughness to repeat that performance again and again. Not that I haven’t, but it was an up-down situation.

But now I feel my downs are not very low. I know how to hold my nerve in a match now.

“I used to be an aggressive shooter. I still am, but it’s very controlled today. I know what needs to be done. I don’t get hyper and angry. I know my strengths and weakness very well. All these things I feel today with experience and that has helped me a lot.”

The stylish shooter credits her success to her long-time coach Anatolii Piddubnyi, and husband Ronak Pandit.

In fact, she is among the select group of sportspersons whose performance has only got better after marriage.

Ronak, 28, an accomplished shooter himself, has given direction to her talent. Heena points at the team effort behind her achievements.

“Anatolii is with me since 2009. Ironically when I started shooting, I didn’t have a coach at that time. I went online and read a few articles about basics of shooting and I came across Anatolii’s article. I trained the way he wrote. I met him after 2-3 years and teamed up with him,” she said.

“His job is to correct my technique. He points out my mistakes, my strengths and weaknesses. He is also very critical but he is not a strict coach. He is always smiling. He can be the motivator. He is like a friend who is always there guiding you, not bullying or commanding you."

“As for Ronak, both of us have been influencing each other. He takes care of a lot of things.

His understanding of me as a person really helps. He is actively involved in my career and is there for all my matches.

In fact, he is like my second coach.

In a way Anatolii and he both are coaching me in different ways. Anatolii can be called the technical coach, while Ronak can be likened to a performance coach. It is a team work,” says Heena who married Ronak last year.

It is her clarity of mind, which Heena believes, sets her apart.“My clarity of mind is very good, I talk to other shooters and sometimes I feel they don’t know what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to make a plan.

They are just shooting, while training is not just shooting.

Training means shooting in a particular way, focussing on small aspects of shooting. It’s like first learning tables before you can do multiplications.

In fact, I feel a lot of Indian shooters do not pay attention to the basics while over the years I have understood that basics are the only thing that matter,” she says.

“Also, I am very critical of myself and of my shooting. I am a perfectionist. When I have decided to do something, I will do it. I am very competitive. In anything I do, more than hard work, I like smart work.”

Heena likes to call her shooting a work in progress. “I feel there is still a lot of potential in me. I don’t know when I will be able to achieve it but I can feel it. I know all the mistakes I have made even when winning, it is just the mistakes were controlled. It’s still a work in progress.”

When not training her senses to hit the bull’s eye, Heena loves to dabble in painting.

 “I have been painting and sketching since I was 9-10 years old. It is something I like to do, it relaxes me. I think I am a good painter. I am self-taught. It is very similar to shooting as both of them require controlled movement,” she said.

Shooter, painter or a dentist, Heena does not believe in half-hearted efforts. That is what, probably, defines a true achiever.

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