How Olympic gold hopeful Apurvi Chandela is leading the Indian women's shooting renaissance
In 2008, Indian shooting reached its pinnacle with Abhinav Bindra winning the country’s first individual Olympic gold medal. This particular victory inspired several kids to take up the sport, in an attempt to fulfil India’s Olympic dream. One such child grew up to be the present day world number seven in the 10 m Air Rifle category and is one of the strongest medal bets at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Apurvi Chandela shot her way to international fame, after winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Within two years of her maiden international success, the 23-year old set a world record at the recently concluded 2016 Swedish Cup Grand Prix.
Breaking world record was a massive confidence boost: Chandela
She registered 211.2 points breaking the previous record of 211 set by Chinese Olympic gold medallist Yi Siling. Chandela said, “Although it wasn’t an official tournament, breaking the record gave me a lot of confidence heading into the upcoming World Cup and the Rio Olympics later. My main aim is to win gold at the Olympics and the World Cup event. I’m giving my 100 % effort towards it.”
Chandela’s rise within the Indian shooting circuit has been meteoric. She said, “I started shooting when I first saw Abhinav Bindra win gold at the 2008 Olympics. Actually that particular Olympics I got really interested in sports, so my parents asked me whether I was interested. So it was an easy choice for me. Most of my friends chose cricket, football, but for me I was always attracted towards rifle shooting.”
Having picked up the sport in late 2008, Chandela showed immediate potential. She won several sub-junior local tournaments in 2009, climbing the lower echelons of the Indian shooting hierarchy very quickly. She said, “To be honest, the transition period of going from junior to senior, amateur to professional is different for everyone. For me it was very quick actually, by 2012 I was shooting with the seniors. However, I attribute a lot of my success to my junior years as it set the base for me, something which I still fall back upon. Those years are reaping its rewards now and hopefully in the future as well.”
The world number 7 climb in just four senior years
In 2012, Chandela won gold in her very first year as a senior in the 10 m Air Rifle category. By 2014, she was a stalwart within the international shooting fraternity, announcing her arrival on the world stage by winning Commonwealth gold. She said, “I would rate the Commonwealth victory as one of my best because I shot with a ligament tear. It was fight not only to win gold, but also within myself with the pain. But, I managed to bear the pain and win it was a great learning experience.”
By 2015, Chandela was knocking on the ISSF world top 10 door winning a bronze medal at the ISSF World Cup event in Changwon and then a silver medal at the World Cup final. She said, “Personally, I would rate 2015 as my strongest years because the kind of shooters I was competing with were at another level as compared to the previous year. Regularly competing against the top 10 in the world and then coming out victorious was a massive boost of confidence for me. I ended the year as world number 7 as well, and hopefully I can go higher now.”
The ISSF shooting circuit is currently in it’s off season, with the first event not scheduled till March in Bangkok, Thailand. However, the ISSF World Cup event is being touted as a build-up for the Rio Olympics in August. This particular event will feature the crème de la crème of the sport and Chandela is completely focused on winning it. She said, “My philosophy has always been to take it tournament by tournament, match by match, so even before the Olympics we have this World Cup event and it will help me test myself against the World’s finest. Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of events before that hence I will try and work on different techniques prior before that. I am currently working with the national team coach we have a few training camps planned here in India and abroad. The schedule is yet to be released, but it will happen soon.”
Indian women’s shooting is currently in its golden era: Chandela
Since the beginning of the 21st century, Indian women’s shooting has failed to live up to the success of their male compatriots. There are exceptions such Anjali Bhagwat’s scintillating run of form, which saw her reach the world number one position. However, the new breed of Indian women’s shooters are all set to reverse the medal drought. The likes of Ayonika Paul, Heena Sidhu and Chandela are being touted as firm Olympic medal candidates.
Chandela added, “We have had some great shooters such as Anjali Bhagwat who reached the world number one position before, but never have we seen so many good shooters such as Heena and Ayonika at the same time. So I would affirm to the fact that this is the golden era of women’s shooting in India.”
Despite winning four Olympic medals since 2004, shooting is yet to commercialise itself to the extent of sports such as badminton and even wrestling. Both these sports have functioning leagues which give young Indian athletes a chance to participate against the world’s finest and garner some much needed experience. Speaking on this topic, Chandela said, “A shooting league is definitely required as it will help sport become more popular. It will also help shooting become more spectator friendly. In fact with the new rules it already has, the scores now refresh after you make it into the top 8, so no one goes in ahead of each other. It will also help commercialise the sport a lot.”
Within a span of eight years, Chandela has gone from dreaming about the Olympics to qualifying for it, and she is more confident than ever for attaining success. She said, “There will be tough competitors from countries such as China, Iran, Croatia and Serbia, but I’m practicing hard and the recent results have been a confidence boost, I hope for the best in August.”