When Samresh Jung earned his first big break in an international event, at the Manchester Commonwealth Games, a teenaged Jitu Rai was growing paddy and potatoes on his parents’ farm in Nepal and PN Prakash was finalising his plans to shift base to Canada to pursue a career in IT.
On Sunday, the unlikely trio teamed up to clinch India’s third medal at the Incheon Asian Games, winning the bronze in men’s 10m air pistol team event. India’s medal machine Rai once again led the charge from the front, but Jung, asserting calming influence, played the perfect anchor and showed that there is no substitute for experience.
From the time they’ve arrived in Incheon, the shooters have whinged about the long detour they had to take to reach the South Korean port city. Every day, you hear them crib about their missing equipment, visa problems, jetlag and fatigue, and how it has severely hampered their chances to return with a rich medal haul. Hence, you expected Jung to ramble along in similar lines. He landed in Delhi from Spain three days ago, got his visa a day later and landed in Incheon a night before his event. He hadn’t slept well.
Yet, he was far from complaining. He has seen worse days. Jung simply stuffed his medal in his bag and proceeded to the bus station to return to the Village. At 44, he couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. There was no wild leaping and definitely no cockiness. He stood in front of the giant screen, looking amused, and took pictures of the scorecard on his smartphone.
“I’d have been disappointed if I didn’t win a medal. My job was to come here, shoot and win something. I’m lucky and I also have good teammates,” he says in his own calm way.
Jung is an uncomplicated and unusual man. In an era swarmed with athletes flaunting six-packs and bulging biceps, Jung is a champion with a bulging belly who shoots casually, with a thumb hooked in his pocket. He remains an old-school shooter even as the young shooters around him fret over maintaining their physique and indulge themselves in distance running to improve their lung-capacity.
“The ultimate aim is to hold your breath for five seconds while pulling the trigger. I have managed to do that for the last 15 years and been pretty successful as well,” he says.
For those five seconds, Jung puts himself into a self-induced coma. His outstretched hand rises in a slow motion till it’s an inch or two above the target. Then he starts applying pressure on the trigger and brings his hand in line with target. He freezes his body, and completes the trigger pull.
Barring a few subtle variations, this style of his has more or less remained unchanged over the years. Much of these changes have occurred in the last few years when it seemed that age had finally caught up with the shooter, when he entered his 40s in 2010. Then came the leanest phase of his career between 2010 and 2012. He had failed to live up to the Gold Finger tag he’d earned at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and his career threatened to drift away.
Recalling this period of his life, we ask him if the pressure got to him? “Of course, it’s there at some level. If you don’t feel the pressure, then you’re dead,” he says.
No frills approach
He’s a calming influence that you’d love to have around on the most gruelling days. Sunday was one such. Jung says shooting is all about controlling your emotions and banishing distractions. “You know what you have to do. But the challenge is, can you do it when you want?”
He can, ostensibly. One could have forgiven Jung and his two other teammates had they returned empty handed. None of them were fresh or in a sound state of mind going into the event early this morning. To make this worse, Jung had checked into the Athletes Village just a couple of hours before midnight on Saturday and met his teammates only in the morning, en route to the Ongnyeon Shooting Range. Jet-lagged and groggy, he couldn’t even sight the target as he would have liked.
Prakash, meanwhile, was facing problems of his own. During training, the 36-year-old pulled a muscle in his left leg, his standing feet, and was facing difficulty in positioning himself for executing the shots. And the fact that his pistol was held up at the Korean customs until Saturday didn’t help the team’s cause either. Rai, who won the 50m pistol gold on Saturday, was visibly jaded as well.
But they managed to shut out those distractions. “All of that doesn’t matter. You come to these events to win medals. Aao, medal jeeto, jaao. That was our plan,” Jung explains. Simple, and uncomplicated. Just like him.
Moment of madness cost jitu
For someone known for maintaining Zen-like calmness, Jitu Rai’s meltdown in the final of 10m air pistol was astonishing. Standing face-to-face with the left-handed KimCheongyang, the duo avoided looking each other in the eye between points. “I looked left and right. But never straight,” Rai said.
He had already won half a dozen medals in the last four months and, a seventh wasn’t out of his reach. Going into the 11th shot, and with only four shooters in the fray, Rai looked set for a top-two finish. He was breathing down the neck of his younger and inexperienced opponent. It was assumed that Kim, just 17, would buckle under the pressure and, true to his style, Rai would mount a late charge.
But a moment of madness cost Rai dear. Kim, who had overshadowed compatriot and reigning Olympic champion Jin Jongoh, shot a perfect score of 10.9, which drew a deafening response from the packed crowd inside the finals range.
Rai, unaware of Kim’s score, assumed people started clapping because the time was getting over and, in haste, he shot. The scorecard read 7.8. “It (the clapping) takes away time as I had to stop my aim to get concentration back and, with time running out — you get 50 seconds per shot — I had to take a shot. It was a forced mistake. It has never happened to me before,” said Rai.
Rai was eliminated after the 14th shot with an aggregate of 138.3. Rai said he had also changed his weapon recently and the unfamiliar trigger troubled him at the crucial time and the absence of a day’s gap between his two events was another reason as he was very tired after Saturday’s gold winning effort.
“I was shooting with a spare weapon. I had changed my weapon and the trigger too was not familiar. Back-to-back ho gaya. Medal ceremony also happened and I then had to go for practice. If there had been a break of one-two days it would have been better. The organisers had not kept a day or two’s break between 50m and 10m events,” he said.