Rifle shooter Elavenil Valarivan loves gold earrings. The 20-year-old is known to pester parents Dr Valarivan and Dr Saroja for a new pair every few months. On Thursday, the signature dangling gold jhumkas sparkled in her ears as the Ahmedabad shooter got herself some serious gold around her neck as well, winning the air rifle World Cup in Rio.
She became the second Indian shooter this year after Apurvi Chandela to win a gold medal in the women’s 10m air rifle at the ISSF World Cup in Brazil. A score of 251.7 in the final helped edge out Seonaid Mcintosh of Great Britain at Rio de Janeiro.
“The only thing I trouble my parents for is gold earrings after every 3-4 months (Laughs). But this time I am returning with my first senior gold medal and I am sure they will get me one more pair to celebrate,” she said. It was her second final of a World Cup and the focus was on improving the quality of shots. “I have been working on my balance and alignment. The range here is a 60-lane range as compared to 100-lane range in places like Munich and I was targeting a score above 630 in qualification,” shared Valarivan while talking with The Indian Express.
The shooter, who became national champion in 2017, was competing in her fourth world cup and she scored 629.4 in qualification before emerging as the champion in the final with a difference of 1.1 over Mcintosh. The first two series saw Valarivan hitting scores of 10.5 or more six times to end third behind Mcintosh at 52.6 and Ying Shin Lin of Chinese Taepei at 52.3. The elimination series had Elavenil hitting the big 10s (10.5 or above) nine times with the only blemish being her last shot of 9.6.
Before the last shot, Elavenil had a lead of 1.6 points over Mcintosh and with the British shooter ending with 10.1, the 9.6 was neatly enough. Two months ago, Elavenil had missed the bronze medal by 0.1 points in Germany where Chandela won gold. The last six months had also seen her make changes in the trigger mechanism of her rifle. “At Delhi, my rifle had malfunctioned and we had to change the trigger mechanism. The trigger weight was not suiting me and once we figured that out, we got the mechanism changed,” she said.
In Munich, where she missed the bronze medal, she had been distracted by other shooters’ scores, with a howler of a 9.7 in the middle of elimination round. Apart from that, her groupings clustered towards left of bull’s eye, which meant changes in balance.
“In the final, I struggled with the height difference of targets. I discussed it with Gagan sir. The qualification round of 632.8 gave me a lot of self-belief,” added Valarivan.
In Munich, Valaviran’s fourth shot of 9.7 in the elimination round had meant that she finally lost by 0.1 point to Hong Xu of China despite shooting 10.6 and 10.7 off her last two shots before elimination. Narang spent time ironing out the flaw at training sessions in Chennai.
In Rio, Valaviran shot into lead at the end of the second elimination round and maintained the lead till the end of the final, a change Narang had noted as a positive. “In finals, she used to be concerned about other shooters’ scores. It happened in the World Cup in Munich, where she lost the bronze medal by 0.1. The 9.7 came in the middle of ten scores of 10.5 and more and when we talked after the final, she told me that she was looking at what others had shot,” he recalls. Narang had told her to shut out everything happening around her. “She had to find her own rhythm and settle in the final and it will act as her strength. She did not think about others’ scores till the medal round. In an event, where shooters like Apurvi and Anjum also compete, Elavenil’s strength has been her ability to focus and to handle pressure,” shared Narang.
Early beginnings and junior success
Both her parents belonged to academia. The youngster initially competed in athletics – 100m and 5,000m at the national level for Gujarat before a visit to Ahmedabad Military and Rifle Training Club with her father started her interest in shooting in 2013. Six months later, the youngster joined the Gun for Glory centre at Sanskardham School, 25km away from her home in Khokhra locality in Maninagar in Ahmedabad.
The youngster would pursuade her father to get her own rifle in 2016 and the next year saw her topping the selection trials with a world record equalling score of 250.6 before she won the 10m Air rifle gold at the Kerala senior nationals.
Before Rio, Valaviran won two gold medals in Junior World Cups last year. “While growing up, we would spend time on dry practice which meant only holding the rifle for more than 45 minutes daily,” Narang says. When air rifle changed from 40 to 60 shots, we also had to make her spend time on re-posturing and making the body handle the pressure of shooting 60 shots. “Her biggest strength has been her stability,” said Neha Chavan, who has been coaching Valaviran since 2013.
“When she started, her height was same as the height of a rifle and she would tell us that she will win a gold medal one day. This gold medal is the real thing for us,” mother Saroja said, adding she’ll consider buying her daughter another pair of danglers after all.