In 2017, when Ashok Panwar sent his son Divyansh, a 14-year-old then, to the Karni Singh Shooting Range in Delhi to train under coach Deepak Kumar Dubey, it was an act of desperation. It was a father’s way of weaning away his son from the popular online combat game PUBG.
But at the Beijing Rifle and Pistol World Cup Friday, the 16-year-old from Jaipur did not need PUBG’s virtual arsenal, his standard Walther was good enough to fetch him the silver medal behind Chinese Hui Zicheng and more crucially, get India a spot in the 10m air rifle for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The teenage rifleman shot a 629.2 in qualification and had a 10.9 on the third-last shot of the final where he finished with 249. On the day of son’s biggest triumph, Ashok recalled the ‘PUBG days’. “We used to scold him for playing online games and ironically, we saw his final in Beijing online. Like most teenagers, he wasted time playing PUBG rather than focussing on his training or studies and I would often scold him. But I tell you, after winning the medal today, he would have played a round of PUBG,” Ashok told The Indian Express.
Divyansh admitted that his priorities have changed. “Like any youngster, I used to really enjoy playing PUBG, now I love shooting and that’s what I do again and again,” he said. “To win a medal for India has always been my dream and I am happy to have done that today also. Being the youngest in the final round did not mean extra pressure on me.”
He also looks up to Abhinav Bindra, who won the 10m air rifle Olympic gold at the same venue at the 2008 Olympics. “I have never met Bindra sir, but I have seen him in competitions. Maybe, I will be able to meet him in the future,” he said.
While the senior Panwar worked as a senior nursing staff at the Sawai Man Singh Medical College in Jaipur, a young Divyansh took up shooting along with his older sister Anjali in 2014. The siblings accompanied their father to the government JDS Shooting Range under coach Kuldeep Sharma.
“When they were kids, I would draw targets on the walls of our house and they would shoot with a plastic gun. The same year, Divyansh won the state medal and his interest grew in the sport. We then got him a new rifle and a pair of shoes before he went to Delhi to train under Deepak sir,” said Panwar.
In a field that included Rio Olympics silver medallist Vladimir Maslennikov of Russia and world championship bronze medallist Shao Chuan of Chinese Taipei as well as multiple Olympics finalist Peter Sidi of Hungary, Divyansh wasn’t particularly suited for the rifle event at the outset.
“His body was not meant for rifle shooting as his skeletal structure is different from what is required,” said coach Kuldeep Sharma. “After training with wooden rifles, Divyansh trained with barrel breaker rifles for two months. We have a full-fledged rifle team here and no one shooting pistol. So he chose the rifle.”
In 2014, when he was competing at the qualifying GV Mavlankar tournament, his father had promised that he would show him the exact number of movies, depending on the score he manages above 390. He shot 390 but he made two extra holes in the target with a screwdriver just to watch the films. “He was handed a ban by NRAI for this and it meant that he would focus on his scores and not on mischievous things like that,” said Sharma.
Since 2017, Panwar has won the junior and youth titles in the nationals apart from winning a silver medal in the Asia Junior Championships in Kuwait in 2018 and a gold at the Asian Shooting Championships in Taoyuan, China this month in the senior category. Coach Dubey recalled Panwar’s journey from a tenacious kid to a matured youngster. “Divyansh showed maturity like an experienced shooter in the final today. His triggering time and follow-through were excellent. When he started training under me, he was mischievous like any other child. He would come to training late by five minutes or make us wait after,” he said.
The family, including mother Nirmala Devi is now preparing to welcome him back with celebratory Dahi Chutney and Roti – something he cherishes. The Mahavir Jain School, Jaipur student, who loves biology, will also give his Class XI exams. “We couldn’t become doctors but Divyansh loves biology. Since he has got this Olympics quota, shooting is the biggest priority. We want him to make the country proud,” said Nirmala, who is also a nurse and runs a medical store at home.