Gagan targets new horizons

Personality : Having won medals at all levels, the ace shooter is ready to face fresh challenges

Gagan targets new horizons

Gagan Narang is a busy man. One will rarely find him alone at the Dr Karni Singh Range, the venue of the year’s first World Cup. In his quintessential quiet manner, he would either be training at the range or dispensing words of encouragement to awed youngsters.

He doesn’t mind being a frank advisor to the senior shooters, when approached. Narang is someone many shooting aspirants could relate to. The Olympic bronze medallist, by his own admission, has had his share of disappointments, but has been able to keep himself afloat with objective assessment.

The Rio Games, where Indian shooters returned without a medal for the first time in the last four editions, has been one such phase for Narang. He wouldn’t like to talk about it. “Let Rio be, let me forget about it,” he brushes the question aside with a skewed smile. Nor would he divulge much on his views about the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) committee, headed by Abhinav Bindra. The committee was critical of him carrying a heel injury to the Games, and not sticking to the routine set by coach Stanislas Lapidus. But as a top shooter, who has given India many international medals, he could hide his feelings, only just.

“I am probably the least expressive on the range and everything looks very well with me but very few know what happens in the heat. It is very easy to stand out and point fingers but very few actually know what an athlete goes through, what I went through at that point in time. I am not very vocal about things. I like to work and let the gun do the talking. In terms of converting the hard work into a medal I get disappointed but not because I did not win a medal per se but more in terms of preparation because a lot of hard work goes into it.”

The 33-year-old participated in three events in Rio Games — 10M air rifle, 50M rifle 3-position, and 50M rifle prone. He confessed about the need to be selective about the events in the future and was determined to be back in his pet event, the 10M air rifle, in which he won the Olympic medal in London. “I will be selective about competing. Peaking in all three will be a challenge. Probably I kind of got my formula wrong there,” he shrugged. “With prone going out, I will have two events, so let’s see how it works."

The International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) is all set  to scrap events like men’s 50-metre free pistol, 50-metre rifle prone and double trap events from the Olympics to accommodate mixed gender events.

Narang, who is currently focusing on the rifle prone event, is uptight about the changes. “We don’t have choice. It’s (mixed gender) in most sports, tennis and badminton, isn’t it?,” he cuts it short.

For someone who has won medals in World Championships, World Cups, where he had hit world record scores in 2008, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, it is natural he would have a lot to contribute to the shooters dreaming of emulating him. Narang,  inspite of opening a shooting academy, ‘Guns For Glory’ , hasn’t compromised on his individual performance.

“Personally, it has been quite an interesting journey. Every sportsperson goes through ups and downs. I had more downs than ups. I am probably the only shooter to win World Cup medals in all three events and the thought of Indian shooters not being able to perform in these events, that kind of motivated me,” says Narang.

“When I started shooting my parents had to sell a plot of land to buy a gun for me. We stayed in rented accommodation for almost 20 years. It was not easy and I didn’t come to know that time what sacrifices they had made. So there were lot of kids after CWG asking me, parents asking me, what should we do, how do we to go about it. I was advising. I was giving my weapon to fellow shooters. I was always helping shooters at various stages be it the equipment support or sponsoring a jacket to somebody or giving a fine bit of advice. There are so many shooters who are spending their money and energy and I want to give them the right kind of guidance. "

His academy is now nurturing young shooters who are India's future in the sports. “I wanted to create an eco-system on how  and what people can do besides shooting, so if someone cannot be a good top-level shooter, he or she can be a coach.”

Narang has already been mentoring Pooja Ghatkar, who went on to win her maiden medal, a bronze, in a World Cup on Friday. “She literally blackmailed me into coaching her! So now I first help her and then do my training. I noticed she was scoring high in training but her match results weren’t upto the mark. So we made a few tactical changes. It worked,” he says. 

When not shooting, Narang would often been hanging around with his camera. It is a passion he has developed over the years, with a slant towards wildlife photography. In fact, the final hall of 10M air rifle for the ongoing World Cup has also been designed by him.

“Because of my sport, I travelled the world and I also realised there were not too many pictures of Indian athletes. It was a way of portraying what you do. So I started with a normal camera. It kind of grew on me, especially wildlife photography. It helps me unwind,” says Narang, who is also busy with commentary of the event.
So is there anything else, which he would like to do more in the future? Narang had a ready reply. “I think I am good with administration. So may be something like sports administration, if opportunity arises.”

Shortly after, Narang was happily obliging a young shooter and a father with a picture. In no time he was amidst a ring of people, busy again.

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