One of the biggest tasks for young marksman Saurabh Chaudhary during the off season was relocating his cattle. It was a period when most other shooters were either polishing their game or testing batches of ammos abroad. Chaudhary, though, needed space to train. The academy in Binauli, Baghpat, where he trained to become Asian and youth world champion, was small with too many distractions. Moreover, travelling 45 minutes in the early morning chill from his house to the academy didn’t seem a like a good idea to his coach Amit Sheoran. “So we decided to set up a range at his home,” Sheoran says.
Chaudhary already had a makeshift ‘range’ — he’d stuck target sheets on the wall next to his bed and shot from a distance of 10m from another room across the hallway. That arrangement, Sheoran knew, wouldn’t take Chaudhary anywhere in pursuit of more international medals.
So they decided to convert a cattle shed, located behind a giant neem tree in their courtyard, into a range. The livestock was moved to a couple of rooms opposite the shed. It’s a tiny, narrow space with two unpainted, cemented wall and a wooden plank on which two targets are fixed. “The length of the room is around 15m, just enough for us to practice 10m shooting,” Sheoran says. “We have been training there six hours during the day and two hours in the evening with just one aim — score as high as possible, consistently.”
On Sunday, he scored higher than any other pistol shooter in the world. In his World Cup debut, Chaudhary won a gold medal, shattered the world record and booked a spot for India in the event at the Tokyo Olympics. He shot a scarcely-believable score of 245 in the final – a total no one had touched before in this event. The previous best (243.6) belonged to former European champion Oleh Omelchuk of Ukraine.
Chaudhary now holds both junior and senior world records (his junior record – 245.5 – is in fact better than senior). He is a junior world champion, a Youth Olympic gold medalist, an Asian Games champion and now a World Cup winner.
And he is just 16. “Age doesn’t matter anymore since he is shooting with the seniors,” Sheoran says. “When we started preparing for the new season, I told him the importance to improve his scores and he was mature enough to understand it.”
The conversation wasn’t that straightforward. Chaudhary’s average score in the qualifying rounds last year, according to Sheoran, was around 582-583 out of a possible 600. While that mostly stood out in the age-group international events, the average in the senior events was around 587. “The good thing with him is he is naturally gifted as a shooter. Focus isn’t an issue either. We just had to work on his stability and finals performances,” Sheoran says.
After a breakthrough 2018, Chaudhary didn’t change his routine for the new year – he still woke up at 5am, had a light breakfast followed by strengthening exercises, continued to go on his hour-long stroll in the sugarcane fields for some fresh air before hitting the range at around 9.30am and starting his practice at 10, which went on till 4. A couple of hours of rest and meditation later, he trained again in the evening.
At Kalina, his village in Meerut district, he is famous for being shy to the point of being invisible. His life still revolves around shooting. The only change in his routine has been dietary, where he has taken to Ayurveda. “There is a copper pot which we fill every night. The next day, he drinks water just from that. There are a lot of medicinal benefits of it and keeps him fresh,” Sheoran says. The intake of milk, a go-to product for protein, has been reduced. “Instead, we give him fresh juices in breakfast, yogurt in the afternoon and milk in the evening. According to Ayurveda, that’s the best eating plan,” Sheoran says.
How a 5-second reduction in shooting time helped Saurabh
Saurabh Chaudhary’s controlled performance in the 10m air pistol finals on Sunday, where he shot a world record score of 245 to win gold, can be traced to the hours he has put in training for such situations. Till last year, Saurabh took around 15 seconds to pull the trigger. On Sunday, he brought that timing down by roughly five seconds. While a five-second reduction might not seem like a major change, his coach Amit Sheoran says it improved the stability of his shooting arm and also ensured he didn’t take too much pressure. “We realized that 10 seconds was perfect for him to aim and shoot. If you wait for too long, your hand might shake and there is also a chance of over thinking and spoiling your shot.” The change has reaped immediate rewards for him.
From the firing point, he has been unstoppable. The world record score hardly came as a surprise for those who’ve seen him shoot in the off-season. Sheoran says he has shot a qualifying score of 595 out of 600 in training, while 590 has become normal. In the finals, where the scores are reset to zero, Chaudhary shot a score of 248.2 in the national selection trials last December. The total was better than 4.6 points than the then world record. However, the scores at national trials aren’t considered globally.
On Sunday, he looked slightly off colour in the qualifying round, but still scored a world-class 587 to finish among the top 8 and make the cut for the final. In the medal round, the unflappable teenager led from start to finish and showcased calmness beyond his years to beat opponents almost twice his age for a fourth consecutive top-of-the-podium finish.
Throughout, he barely showed any emotions. He was doing the same things he’s been practicing at home in Kalina – a glass of fresh juice for breakfast and shooting high scores. Just that this was under the gaze of several hopeful eyes at the World Cup, and not in some secluded corner of a cowshed-turned-shooting range.