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This is Gagan Narang’s 20th year as a competitive shooter. In the interim, he has won everything he could and, along with Abhinav Bindra, changed the face of Indian shooting. After suffering a heartbreak at the Rio Olympics, where he missed qualifying for the final by narrowest of margins, Narang is already looking at Tokyo for redemption. In an interview with The Indian Express, he talks about the agonizing miss in Rio and his approach for the Tokyo Games. Excerpts:
How do you approach a new Olympic cycle?
You know what you need to work on. There are two phases: a training phase and a competition phase. When you’re working during a training phase you do different things. In competition phase you want to try that. So you learn from that, keep the momentum going and working on the cycles. That’s what keeps on happening after the Olympics.
Do you start from scratch every four years?
You have experience of competing at the Olympic with you but how you apply it is the key. It’s not necessary that what worked for you two years ago will work now. You are at a different stage of your life so there are different factors.
What stage in life are you?
I am trying to change the colour (of the Olympic medal) now. So just getting back into the mode.
Is it tough to motivate yourself after having won almost everything?
There is no lack of motivation. Look, no one’s life is consistent. We try and make our lives as consistent as possible which reflect in our sport.
What are your memories from the Rio Olympics?
I learn more from defeat than success. When you are winning there’s very little scope of learning because everything is working for you. But I think when you suffer defeat that is when you have to rise from ashes, go back to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong. In Rio, it was just one shot that put me off. Otherwise, I was in the finals.
Did that one shot still play in your mind?
Oh, it did. I couldn’t sleep for several weeks after Rio to get over it. It does play on your mind. This was my first Olympics where prone was my main event. Earlier, it was 10m air rifle. So it was different event. Rio was also quite interesting because I had taken part in three events. Clearly my formula didn’t work there and I am tweaking it. Peaking in one event is possible but to peak in two or three is tough.
How do you see your role in the Indian team change going into the Tokyo cycle?
Quite a few things have changed. The way approach a tournament has changed, the way people abroad look at us has changed. Earlier they wouldn’t even count us but now they look and take a note that Gagan has come, Abhinav has come or a Jitu Rai has come or a Heena Sidhu has come. We have been able to reach that mark where we are reaching the finals. Earlier, Indian in final was as good as winning a medal. I think I was able to break that jinx in the World Cups. I think I have six or seven World Cup medals. A lot has changed in terms of approach also people take us more seriously. If we need something, it is provided to us. Rules also, when I had to import my first small bore rifle, in 1999-2000 I guess, it took me two years. By the time it arrived, people were using more sophisticated ones. Now, you can get it in two weeks. Also people are willing to put in the money to excel in it, which is a positive.
Do you think shooting’s perception as change?
When people ask ‘what do you do’ and I say ‘I do shooting’, at least they don’t ask ‘which movie?’ So it has changed, definitely.
You say you are a product of the system while many others have claimed they are where they are despite of the system. How do you look at the contrast?
I consider myself a product of the system. There have been a lot of ups and downs. There have been things about which I could’ve spoken about but I chose not to – at different points of times when things weren’t right with me. I have always looked at things positively and let the gun do the talking.
You also have been coaching junior shooters. Is that the future?
I have always helped a lot of shooters, Pooja (Ghatkar) was gracious and kind to acknowledge it (after winning bronze at the World Cup). That’s the reason I opened the academy. You need right kind of guidance at the right age. We didn’t have such things. Now the knowledge is available. What took us 10 or 15 years to reach a particular level, we can impart the experience and help others reach that level quicker. Right knowledge, approach and guidance can help get desired results.
You are competing for a spot in the team and also helping others. How do you get the balance?
Right now, I am shooting one event. It’s not staying that way and training in all three. I will compete in others when I get to that level. When I am not shooting, I am thinking about it. So coaching isn’t a problem.
How hard is it to stay competitive and relevant because the sport has changed a lot?
I think my academy is an advantage because I know what the best practice is. I need to know that to teach that to my kids and in doing so, even I am staying updated. It’s not that I have been disconnected with the sport. It’s not very hard to be relevant. In shooting, you need to adapt and if you do that, you will always stay relevant.
Abhinav Bindra-led panel was very forthcoming in its report regarding various shooters. When he talked about you, how did it affect you? Did you look at it as something that has come from a fellow shooter or were you surprised?
I haven’t spoken about the report till now and I will keep it that way. I will speak about it at the right time.