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Top Gun Gagan

Narang’s will,coupled with support staff’s acumen,was winning cocktail

Written by Shivani Naik | Published: July 31, 2012 1:55:38 am

For close to four days,Stanislav Lapidus lay on a hospital bed,40 km away from the Games Village,feverish and shivering with his blood tests proving inconclusive on the precise cause of his illness that had kept him away from his favourite shooting disciple,Gagan Narang. On Sunday night,he demanded that he be discharged and allowed to watch his ward in action.

In order to speed up his recovery,he’d agreed to stand under a freezing shower for an hour each day — this in chilly London. Lapidus’s timely return was to prove crucial as he helped Narang recover from a potentially slippery position when he shot two 9s in the third series,and might have blundered were it not for his coach’s stern presence.

The coach’s golden tactical touch,however,brought a much needed bronze medal.

“It was tactically wrong when he shot those 9s. He should have rested before the 52nd,53rd shot. He didn’t. But after that we steered him back on track,” said the Kazakh,who believes Gagan’s result washed over all the bitterness of the antibiotics he was subjected to. “His medal cured my sickness faster than the medicines,” he said,allowing his ward to speak to the media after months of cocooning him with a gag-order. “Today is okay,after tomorrow,not okay,” he boomed,having said earlier that he wasn’t content with just the bronze,even as Narang prepares for his other two events — 50m prone and 50m 3-positions.

The Olympics is incentive enough,but there always loomed a fear that his ward might just get swayed away by that hysterical appreciation.

Rough with smooth

Narang had spent time training his mind to accept the rare 9s and move on,without mulling over them,resulting in no prolonged slumps,when he shot. It could be considered a special compliment that Narang’s mental training coach Vaibhav Agashe says that the Hyderabadi shooter isn’t what he is — a medallist to boot,from now — merely because of mental steel.

‘’Sometimes,we overestimate mental strength. In Gagan’s case he’s mentally tough,but what’s special is that he is superiorly skilled in his technique,” he says. That could mean his stance,his hand-eye co-ordination or even his obsessive observant nature that can pick things out of ordinary life and apply it to his training. That and Lapidus’ acumen proved to be a winning cocktail.

Agashe also insists that he’s a rare talent to work with for despite his natural class,the man is without a shred of ego when it comes to shooting. “Many good shooters are rigid about their techniques,and will panic if a change is forced on them. For,every shooter has to keep changing his technique,it doesn’t stay constant. Gagan accepts that,and won’t be afraid to tweak something even at the last moment. He keeps fiddling with his gun,” Agashe says,of the bronze man who puts a lot of store on ‘getting the feel’,the perfectly fluid triggering position,and also learnt how to withdraw a shot if he didn’t quite feel right about. ‘’Especially when you are a touch-shooter,you cling onto techniques. Gagan’s flexible.”

Perhaps the toughest job from among his support staff fell on Swapnil Mate,Narang’s physio. A man known to love food,and not someone who’d wake up at 4 am and go for a pleasant jog,Mate was dealing with an athlete who adored eating,and coaxed others to join in. “Very early,I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t stop him from eating anything he likes. It was my job to get him to exercise only. And I’d goad him to do that,” smiles the relieved trainer.

It fell upon Lapidus and his wife — who carries sewing kits — to adjust his jacket and shooting gear. But nobody put the giant baby in a starving corner.

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