Mairaj Ahmed Khan’s Italian connection clicks at Shooting World Cup with medal in Skeet

Mairaj Ahmed has trained with women’s champion Diana Bacosi at Rome on the same equipment that will be used in Rio.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai | Updated: April 26, 2016 9:17:16 am

This was Mairaj Ahmed Khan best ever performance at the World Cup. In Rome, Mairaj could avail of the Laporte-185 skeet machine set that will be used in Rio. Express

Mairaj Ahmed Khan is glad he won silver at the ISSF World Cup in Rio over the weekend, and gladder still he didn’t win gold. It’s not like the 40-year-old pegs down ambitions and is content with whatever he achieves – a rare World Cup medal in Skeet, not India’s best shotgun variant.

Just that the shooter knows what tricks the happy mind can play on itself. “Good I didn’t win gold, it might’ve led to over-confidence!” he accepts.

As the only Indian to medal at the pre-Olympics event held at the Games shooting range in Deodoro Park – most shooters headed to Brazil to test waters and familiarise themselves with the conditions – Mairaj reckons this medal work for his kind of mindset. “While you can shrug off the confidence and self belief that comes with doing well at the actual venue of Olympics as having no bearing on what might happen in August, I knew that if I had shot badly at this venue, a fear might’ve crept into me, and that can hurt at times,” the marksman from Khurja, Uttar Pradesh, says.

“For me, I need to peak in competition, not in training. So the silver is just enough to motivate me and still keep me on my toes,” says the surprise qualifier.

Skeet – for long considered a notch or two below trap and double trap in India – was the unlikeliest of medal from this test event, with the big names in Indian shooting using this opportunity to take in the surroundings of the Olympic range. Mairaj, who’s had an up and down career – boosted though by Ennio Falco’s entry onto the scene – believes this medal was due.

“I’ve been working hard for many years, so it’s an outcome of that. It’s a proud moment for all skeet shooters in India,” he said.

Mairaj has gritted out the listless days when skeet hardly registered on the radar, and having found a coach, has made the most of his modest talent, learning from the European masters while camped in Delhi.

A determined shooter who’s been on the circuit for a decade and half without even causing a major flutter, Mairaj was hardly expected to be the one to draw a podium out of this visit. As such, he is aware that even when the shooters fly off in July, his won’t be the most fancied names for a medal.

“The way I look at this, I did my job. I wanted to see how I’d react to the pressure of shooting on the Olympics range – that anxiety can’t be simulated in training for me. It’s great to shoot big scores in training or get records (he did shoot 122 in qualifying), but for me only winning matters,” he says. “It’s different for different shooters.”

Skeet which qualified its first-ever shooter after a good run over the last 2 years of ever-improving scores benefitted from national coach, the Italian Ennio Falco. For one, the shotgun bunch was based out of Italy – a few hundred miles out of Rome.

There, Mairaj was aided by training alongside women’s skeet champ and his friend Diana Bacosi – and it wasn’t just the inspiration that was passed on. He could avail of the Laporte-185 skeet machine set that will be used in Rio as well as the clay targets that will be flung at the Games proper. “Trained together for a couple of days and that helped me select and change my ammunition,” he says.

Having borrowed from the Italians, the Indian now hopes to buy his own set for around 11,000 Euros during the home stretch of training – again in adopted base, Italy.

His run-up in Cyprus on a windy range wasn’t great, but Rio started well as he didn’t miss till the 14th bird, and then watched his second double series too progress well. He would rush a tad after being tied on 14 in the gold shoot-off tiebreaker with Swede Marcus Svennson, and settle for a silver. “Lesson learnt,” he laughed.

While the open range boasts a beautiful blue skyline and visibility was perfect, Mairaj needed to adjust to the clay targets which were lighter in powder weight. “They weren’t breaking too well in qualification, but that concern was sorted in the finals.”

There’s little chance of this medal going big to his head. “Have you seen the giant Christo statue in Rio? That is big,” he stressed, “I still have to do well at the Olympics. This is just a small positive step!”

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