Surgeons have those fingers. Those open heart surgery folk who stitch up small arteries. And Rolls Royce car welding wizards. Those fingers speak precision of the highest kind.
At the Deodoro shooting range, a good distance into the military caves of Rio, a dozen men are lined up, lying awkwardly on their bellies clutching rifles that jut out of their eyesights. Not the most perfect positions for cutting edge precision – the chin centimetres from the ground. The only other time you’d have seen something like this in sport is when cue players sprawl over the baize with one foot up trying to pocket a shot. But this target is 50 metres away, angled on an incline. 50m Prone might seem like shooters lying down for a nap on way to Olympic gold medals with a gun. But perhaps the only blokes who’ll comprehend the enormity of lying low and shooting bulls-eye are soldiers on war frontiers, lying in trenches, hunkered down.
“Everytime they breathe there’s a problem,” Dr Nikhil Latey, physio and conditioning expert, says of India’s prone shooters Chain Singh and Gagan Narang. As if prone shooters breathe out of choice. “Every time breathing changes the body moves up and down and disturbs the ideal position to shoot,” he adds. It’s the least of things expected when disciplining the body to shoot prone – not breathe. “When they’re ready to shoot, they hold their breath, and shoot between two heartbeats,” he goes on. The sleeping men, eyeing gold, can finally relax, before the nerves instruct the body to stop breathing again before the next shot. This happens 60 times.
An event that involves shooters lying prone is considered too soporific to entertain. It might even get left behind by the time Tokyo 2020 fetches up. Before that Gagan Narang and Chain Singh are hoping to give it their best shot.
The most unglamorous of shooting events, prone puts a lot of pressure on the left elbow – if you are shooting with the right. It’s not just about muscle coordination – it’s also gauging the winds.
Those pretty red/orange flags and their wicked fluttering – at times in confusing, mixed signal, typhoonic fashion like at the last World Cup before Rio in Baku where one flag in the same line was rustling left, the other right. Prone’s considered the stable position among the three – standing and kneeling too sensitive to a thousand muscles and nerves capable of wrecking havoc. “You need to be ridiculously accurate because scores go real high,” Latey says.
There’s visibility issues – that can change within minutes. And the aforementioned winds that have minds of their own, even as you are locked to the ground gunning for accuracy that doesn’t allow any slip-up.
Chain Singh had a great year leading upto the Olympic lead-up year. One of the most consistent shooters, the Army lad however was hospitalised at Switzerland recently, even put on blood thinners when an old DVT acted up. He’s fine now, smiling and shooting away, but it’s not been the most perfect of run-ups for the talented marksman.
Narang won bronze at London in his not-so-pet 10m air rifle – a mind-bogglingly talented shooter who loves his tech toys and can pull open a gun and patch it back together for a hobby. Iron Man, minus Jarvis, who loves having his dessert and eating and sharing it too.
Yet, prone – his best event, hasn’t quite yielded the big, massive Olympic medal -sized return that it should have for the versatile marksman who shoots three events. He’ll probably tell you how and where each gun is manufactured, go deep into rifling and bullet speed and hold forth on how muscles and nerve-ends react right befre the gun-trigger gets pulled by shooters.
On August 12th though, this challenging event might only show up on the radar if India can medal at it in style. Otherwise, it stands to go into sleep mode – with not a high chance of being revived.