On Thursday, when 13-year-old Esha Singh became the youngest champion in the senior category in the women’s 10 m Air Pistol event at the Shooting Nationals in Kerala, she asked her father and former rally driver Sachin Singh to record the special moment with a camera.
The Secundrabad-based teenager shot a final score of 241.0, edging out shooters like Commonwealth Games and Youth Olympics champion Manu Bhaker and two-time ISSF World Cup gold medallist Heena Sidhu. Esha also claimed the titles in the junior and youth categories.
“While growing up, all I would see and hear was bikes and cars with my father competing in various rallies. He made me try go-carting initially, but I did not find it exciting. But when I went to a range for the first time, I liked the idea of pistol shooting and my father told me it’s like driving a car. Winning the senior national title is like winning a rally and I could see the same kind of adrenalin rush in my father’s eyes when I won. He left rallying to support me and this medal is for him,” Esha told The Indian Express. While she made a comeback after qualifying eighth in the junior category to win the gold ahead of Manu, Esha led from the start in the senior final except for the fourth series in the second stage when she was tied second behind Shweta Singh. But three of her last four shots recorded more than 10.5 to edge out her opponents.
“I was just concentrating on shooting consistently. Manu is a friend of mine and she congratulated me after the final. We like to discuss in our free time is shooting,” shared Esha, a student of Bolton School in Hyderabad.
An eight-year-old Esha would initially try her hand at go-karting and badminton before making the switch to shooting in 2014. With the Gachi Bowli complex having limited facilities for pistol shooting, the Singh family would often travel to Pune to train at London bronze medallist Gagan Narang’s Gun For Glory academy. While Esha finished 35th out of 254 shooters in the senior category and 18th among the juniors at last year’s nationals, she won a team silver medal in junior civilian category apart from the mixed team event bronze medal.
“Esha’s first pistol cost Rs 70,000, almost double of what I spent on my first bike, and she would often tell me that her pistol is also like my bikes. When Esha showed a keen interest in shooting, we would travel to Pune for attending camps while her mother Srilatha would manage our sports shop. Later, we also built her a small range at home. It was like operating a car garage for me after I left rallying two years ago. Her three medals are the biggest gift for me,” said the proud father.
Esha’s first coach in Pune was Hiren Jaiswal and he remembers seeing her as a thin-framed kid. “When she first came to train under me, she was like a normal 10-year-old. Normally, we start training at the age of 10 or 11 but we did not want to put pressure on her bones initially. We would make her train in a sitting position for 40-50 shots and aspects like sight adjustments were taught later, which she grasped quickly. Being the only daughter, she was a pampered kid and would throw tantrums initially.
But as she started enjoying shooting, she would have many questions. Starting young also meant that she realised the importance of mental training. “I remember during the initial months, she had shoulder pain once. I told her that I will cast a magic spell with a pencil and the pain will go away (Laughs). Her strength has been consistency and that’s what she showed in the final,” shared the 32-year-old coach.
Esha’s current coach and the head coach of Narang’s Project Leap, Abdul Kayyum Shah was also following the final and rates Wednesday’s performance highly.
“The fact that she won the senior gold with a margin of more than two points will motivate Esha a lot. Competing in a final with shooters like Manu Bhaker, Heena Sidhu and Shweta Singh and leading in all the series except one speaks a lot about her mental strength. And she maintained her focus in all the three finals and won the senior, junior and youth titles. This win will add a lot to her confidence,” he said.