Malaika Goel stopped going to school when she was in Class VI. At 16 years, the Ludhiana teenager — the youngest member of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games Indian contingent — has picked a stunning silver in the 10m Air Pistol event, fetching the country its first medal in shooting at the Barry Buddon ranges.
She’s unlike most 16-year-olds. “I don’t like anything much beyond shooting,” she says. That includes keeping a cellphone and spending time on social network websites. It also included not panicking after her qualification score pitched her in fourth place ahead of the final.
Baby of this high-achieving Indian pistol team, Malaika (total score 197.1) chased leader and gold medallist Shun Xie Teo (198.6), snapping at her heels, and displayed both consistency and a fearless nerve in the shoot-offs. Her 10.2 to eliminate Dorothy Ludwig to bronze in the penultimate head-to-head showed her mettle.
“I hadn’t started well in the qualification, I just couldn’t settle down and qualified fourth. But because qualifications were poor, I knew I had to do something in the final,” she says, of her series of 96, 92, 95 and 95 for a total of 378. That ‘something’ which she stressed on, was a solid final.
Heena Sidhu, the overwhelming favourite, witnessed an implosion going out second of the eight finalists in the elimination.
Things hadn’t gone to plan. “When I’d set off to Glasgow, I only wanted to improve my scores. Well that didn’t happen, but I won a medal,” Malaika says.
Her father, a police officer in Punjab, had insisted when she was 10 that she needed to pick at least one sport. “I always wanted to shoot professionally, it was never a hobby,” says the determined markswoman. A range was built at home, Malaika opted out of school and has pretty much stayed focused on her goal, encouraged by her well-to-do parents.
Mother Amarpreet travels to all her events — she has been to only three World Cups, having started out in seniors only this year. She had grown up watching senior teammates Heena and wanting to shoot scores like her.
Obsessed with sport, Malaika remembers rushing home from school four years ago and wanting to watch all the events of the Delhi Games at once. “Even London, I just loved watching every sport that was happening — they were the ‘TV athletes’,” she says, not quite realising she’s the TV athlete herself.
In the lead-up, the youngster, funded and supported by Anglian Medal Hunt and Olympic Gold Quest, had undergone extensive mental training under mountaineer and motivational speaker Satyavrat D with Skype sessions to calm her down.
“She a Buddha in training and a Samurai when she shoots,” says fellow shooter Om Prakash. “Calmer than anyone I know. Definite star of the knockout finals,” he adds.