Winner all the way

Winner all the way

Many people are named Jitu, but very few live up to its true meaning. Jitu Rai is among the few who has made it possible, emerging as a true winner.

Born to a modest family in the remote Nepali village of Sankhuwasabha, Jitu’s rise has been so spectacular that today, despite the wealth of talent in the India, he has clearly become the face of shooting in his adopted nation.

Enjoying the form of his life, the soft-spoken Naib-Subedar, whose career appeared wrecked in 2010-11 when he failed to live up to his early promise, has used every opportunity that life has presented to him to scale the ladder of success, showing hard work and dedication can help anyone conquer any hurdle.

Outside the shooting fraternity, Jitu wasn’t a familiar name till recently. The 26-year-old not only announced himself as a top notch marksman in telling fashion this year but justified the faith some had in him.

With this season being a jam-packed one with plenty of top events, Jitu set himself a realistic target of winning a couple of medals that could give his career the impetus he desired, hardly envisioning the seven-star show thus far.

He won his first international medal, nailing the 10M air pistol silver at the World Cup in Munich before emplaning to Maribor, Slovenia, where he enjoyed twin success. He first fired a silver in the 10M pistol before wrapping up a stellar nine-day spell by smashing his way to gold in the 50M pistol event. In doing so, he became the first shooter from the country to win two medals at a single World Cup.

The success trail continued at the Commonwealth Games too where he pocketed the 50M pistol gold, the image of his arms raised with the gentle smile splashed across his school-boyish face an endearing one.

Shooting like a man possessed, he bagged India’s sole medal at the World Championships in Granada, Spain, thereby fetching the first Rio Olympics quota for the country. 

That form and confidence was in full flow at the ongoing Asian Games in Incheon as well, Jitu blitzing through a top-quality field to bag the individual 50M pistol gold and playing the lead role in India securing the team championship bronze in the 10M air pistol event.Strangely, his only failure came in his pet event, the 10M air pistol event where he finished fifth, more to do with fatigue rather than poor firing.

“It’s been an amazing season for me and I want to make the most out of it,” said Jitu. “I never expected it to be this good. All credit goes to the Army. If it is was not for the Army, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this. The coaches there and at the national camps have been instrumental in my success.”

Jitu, like in the case of most champions, had to fight through plenty of adversity to achieve all this. He spent much of his childhood like many others in the village, content with its simplicity before the death of his father in 2006 forced him to take responsibility of running the family.

Not highly educated, he weighed his options and chose to move to India where he joined 11 Gorkha Regiment as a sepoy in 2006. He chose shooting as one of his extra-curricular events when things started to change.

He found a liking for the sport and with many Army shooters using it as stepping stone for success, he channeled all his energy into making a mark with gun. In 2010-11 he made his way into the Army squad but made his way out quickly after flattering to deceive. Banished back to his unit, Jitu, however, didn’t cave in, loading up his ammunition and graduating to the national squad in 2012. Since then, there has been no turning back for him, his exploits and modesty capturing everyone’s attention.

The best aspect of Jitu is his consistency and ability to take heavy workload. In a sport where even a millimetre can make a massive difference, he has hardly strayed off target, despite hopping from one competition to another without much rest in between.

“He is mentally very strong,” said national pistol coach Smirnov Pavel. “Nothing really troubles him. You throw him any challenge and he comes out successful. At the very same time he is very rooted to the ground and despite all his success, he has stayed focused with bigger goals ahead of him.”

The bigger goal that Smirnov is referring to is the 2016 Rio Olympics. Jitu showed his intention when the secured an Olympic spot for the country and in two year’s time, if he can maintain the same form, there will be no denying a ticket for him. “First I want to take some rest,” said Jitu, displaying the first signs of exhaustion. “My next aim is to win a medal at the World Cup Finals, which would be a huge achievement. I’m going to hit the range with the aim of striking it rich there.

“After that, it has to be the Olympics. That’s what everyone trains for. I want to do what other shooters have done, win medals for the country. That’s my main target.”

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