Shardul Vihan of India celebrates after securing silver in the men’s double trop event at the Asian Games 2018 (Jakarta Palembang) on August 23 (Pic: Twitter).
The talent-scouting system for shooting in India -- like any other sport for that matter -- is not perfect. The sport has its traditional centres -- Delhi and Pune -- and a support structure provided by the departmental teams, which consists primarily of the Armed Forces. The demographics are pretty skewed too. The Jakarta Palembang Asian Games, however, has put the spotlight on an unlikely town as a potential goldmine of talent, right under the noses of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) and the capital.
Meerut, known for its glass and sports goods manufacturing industries, is not exactly famous for producing shooting stars, though the town have had its fair share of inglorious history with guns. The town in UP, which falls under the National Capital Region (NCR), is now getting mentioned in gun related news of a positive kind. Two teenagers from Meerut have won medals at the Asian Games 2018 -- an historic gold by 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary in the 10m air pistol event, which was followed by Shardul VIhan’s silver in the men’s double trap at the Asiad shooting range in Palembang on August 23. If one adds 30-year-old Ravi Kumar’s bronze (teaming with Apurvi Chandela in the 10m air rifle mixed event), that’s three medals from the town. Three medals and counting!
A gold and a silver at the continental games by two teenagers is no mean feat. But it is so much more special when we take into account that there is no state-of-the-art facility in Meerut for training in the sport. A couple of academies exist, with small shooting ranges, but not the kind that could prepare a talent for the world stage.
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Vihan travels all the way to New Delhi to train under coach Anwar Sultan -- a gruelling 100 km journey that he begins at 4 am takes, on days, over three hours. The time spent on travel for training has forced Vihan to attend only one day of school (on the training break day of Monday).
Chaudhary, the son of a farmer, meanwhile. developed into a champion shooter at Amit Sheoran's academy at Benoli near Baghpat, 53 kilometers from Meerut.
Both the boys are likely to make a shift to the capital now that their “potential” and “talent” are out there in the open. But, considering the hardships and sacrifices that would have entailed in both their journeys till now, there was a good chance they would have either given up or fallen by the wayside.
Luckily for India that didn’t happen. Both are remarkable talents, and though separated by the colour of their medals at the Asian Games, their victories are special and one that holds a lot of promise for the future.
Vihan shot 73 to come second behind Korea’s Shin Hyunwoo, 34, who edged out the Indian by a point. Qatar’s Al Marri Hamad Ali won bronze with a score of 53 at the Jakabaring shooting range. The teenager had qualified for the final by topping the qualification round (141 points while teammate Ankur Mittal failed, finishing ninth position with a score of 134.
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Chaudhary’s exploits from two days back would have inspired Vihan to shoot at the clay targets with a sense of destiny, a sense, he felt as an eight-year-old, almost seven years back, when he first lifted a shotgun.
Vihan’s story began with cricket -- he was admitted to an academy as a six-year-old but soon shifted to badminton, taking a liking to the racquet sport. But the distance to the academy meant he would often be late for training and that led to him being ousted from the academy.
On the day he was ousted from the badminton centre, his father Deepak Vihan met Vedpal Singh of the Rifle Association, who insisted that the boy needed to be a little older to get into shooting. However, Vedpal relented when he saw Vihan’s composure with the shotgun in his hand. The journey had begun.
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In 2012, Vihan won silver at the North Zone Championship, following which he started to seriously prepare for the Nationals. However, the nine-year-old had to wait a couple of years as one had to be 12 at least to compete at the National Championships. When he did compete (at the juniors to start with), he started making steady progress.
At the 2017 Nationals, he announced his intentions with a bang, establishing himself as a serious boy among the shotgun wielding men in his sport.
Vihan produced a sensational performance to win four gold medals on a single day in the 61st National Shooting Championship at the Karni Singh range in New Delhi. He aced the senior and junior men's double trap individual and team events to dominate the championships, which included a shock victory over Ankur Mittal in the men's final.
That performance shot him (pun intended) into the international scheme of things, and a new turn in his journey, which has taken him to a medal at the Asiad.
With age on their side, Vihan and Chaudhary could well become the next big names in Indian shooting in the coming years, and their hometown, Meerut, the next champion factory.