Unflappable Rahi Sarnobat,India’s first pistol shooter to win WC gold

Rahi Sarnobat is a complete antithesis of the intense,nerve-wracked shooter.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Published:April 6, 2013 1:44 am

Rahi Sarnobat is a complete antithesis of the intense,nerve-wracked shooter. She is seemingly laidback,bordering on lethargic in her body language. And blessed with a mother who breezily downplays ambitions like winning or bringing home medals and likes nothing better than to constantly and gleefully feed her only child — India’s first-ever pistol shooter to win an ISSF World Cup gold medal.

The 22-year-old from Kolhapur pipped local girl Kyeongae Kim 8-6 in the final of the 25m sports pistol event at Changwon,Korea,on Friday.

Sarnobat,who trains at Gagan Narang’s Gun for Glory academy in Pune now,joined an elite club of rifle shooters — Anjali Bhagwat,Narang,Sanjeev Rajput and shotgun marksmen Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore,Ronjan Sodhi and Manavjit Singh Sandhu — in the list of gold-winners of the ISSF World Cups for India.

Sarnobat,who qualified for London with a similar blaze in the sprint-like finish when earning her quota in 2011 is known to have the imperturbable temperament of a cool cat mixed with the rapid reaction times of those faster felines.

Known to be amongst the sturdiest finishers in one-on-one face-offs,Sarnobat was lined up fourth in the semifinal stage with a total score of 585,but sealed her final berth as the second best semi-finalist with 15 points,behind Kim who was on 16.

The new competition rules in shooting suit the markswoman perfectly as the points are given according to the number of inner tens scored by a shooter in each series of five shots.

New format helps

“It was a new format of the final,and the driving force to get into the semis was that I was excited about shooting in this new format. I’d practiced it a few times but wanted to see how I fare in competition,” Sarnobat said of the decider where everyone starts on zero.

The top two shooters qualified for the final,while the third and fourth placed shooters faced each other in the bronze medal play-off,won by London gold medallist Kim Jang-Mi.

After two tied series,Rahi opened up a two point lead. Kim came back winning the next two to go 6-4 up,but Sarnobat displayed her ice-cool nerves after losing the sixth and seventh series 3-1 and 2-1 respectively to snatch gold.

The shooter herself stayed immune to pressure at this point,by simply hurrying up for she was fatigued. “By the time of the last series,my hand was very tired,so I just wanted it to be over — win,lose didn’t matter!” she chuckled.

“Of course,despite the silver being assured,I didn’t want to let go of the gold and I knew had to fight for it,” she said,adding that she was hardly hassled by the Korean supporters egging on their own shooter. “I’ve been working with Anatoli Puddubny (coach),and we’d worked hard in training after London,experimenting with the grip which I finally changed in December. But this time,I decided to go with no fixed preparation,no planning. Coach told me to just go and shoot,I liked shooting that way,” says the girl,whose chubby face betrays no stress,which many opponents find severely unsettling.

For someone who started on air-pistol,dawdling into a shooting range merely because she hero-worshipped city-mate and rifle shooter Tejaswini Sawant,Sarnobat’s taken some quick strides. While Sheela Kanungo,her early coach in Mumbai,gently nudged her towards sports pistol for she sensed the temperament and intellect for the rapid-event,Sarnobat moved quickly from being a Commonwealth Youth Games podium winner to winning a CWG medal,and then qualifying for the Olympics.

“She’s very quiet and very solid as a shooter. Nothing hassles her,and she may appear to be slow to react,but she has the sharpest brains of all the children I’ve seen,” says Kanungo,adding that the girl is blessed with an innately high IQ and analytical skills and picks techniques and gun-knowledge rapidly.

“Sport pistol is also about immense stamina,and Rahi is good at this event,” she says punch pleased. Sport pistol incidentally starts out like a marathon; long initial rounds and ends in a sprint. Former pistol champ and now coach Ashok Pandit says the Maharashtra shooter was born to excel at the new format.

“She just absorbs pressure in competition. Being a happy-go-lucky person otherwise,crunch situations don’t bog her down.” Her easy-going temperament is attributed to her parents,who have never put any pressure on her.

Sarnobat was oblivious to her history-making feat. “I didn’t know I was the first Indian pistol shooter to win gold in a World Cup till my fellow shooters brought a cake for me,” she said.

How will she celebrate? “I’ll sleep. I love sleeping.”

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