Heena Sidhu winning her first ever individual gold medal is big news for Indian shooting. It’s bigger news that she held her nerve at the dying stages of the final.
Whether it was bottling up during key moments,immaturity or lack of self-belief,Heena hadn’t been able to translate her successes at national level into medals at a World Cup. Heena,on a number of occasions,had faltered with her last shot,both in finals and during qualifying rounds.
At the Asian Shooting Championships in Doha the last qualification tournament for the 2012 Olympic Games she was placed third going into the last shot. She shot a 9 and finished fifth,losing out on a direct berth.
A similar ‘meltdown’ happened at the London World Cup right ahead of the 2012 Games,when she failed to make the cut for the final by a point. At the World Cup held in Changwon,South Korea,in April this year,she was the first to be eliminated from the finals after a succession of low 9s and a lowly fifth shot of 7.6. At the 2010 Commonwealth Games,Heena lost out on an individual gold by a mere 0.3 points.
For her to forget all of these near-misses and beat reigning world champion Zorana Arunovic by a big margin of five points to clinch gold has to be commended. Coaches have attributed this sudden leap in performance to her growing self-belief and also to the experience she has gained from being a regular member of the Indian team for over four years. We all know that she was talented but now she beginning to show that on the field, says coach Wajid Ali.
Wajid and other coaches are happy that Heena has joined a select few,among Indian pistol shooters,to have stood on the podium at ISSF meets the others being Sonia Rai,Rahi Sarnobat and Annu Raj Singh.
By winning gold,Heena has also repaid the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) for showing faith in her and selecting her over Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore for the London Games. NRAI had to fend off pressures from within Army Marksman Unit wanted the replacement quota to go to Rathore and a few coaches favoured seasoned pistol shooter Anisa Sayeed.
But NRAI chose Heena saying that she needed the Olympic exposure that would come in handy for the 2016 Rio Games. NRAI’s leap of faith is beginning to show results.
Vinayak is a principal correspondent based in New Delhi.