Ever since Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, shooting has been India’s most successful sport in the quadrennial sporting extravaganza. A medal at each of the last four editions has highlighted the sport’s transition from relative obscurity to consistent dominance in India’s sporting landscape.
From the turn of this century, shooting has gone from strength to strength, culminating in the country’s largest Olympic contingent of 12 booking their Rio 2016 berths. Apart from the fraternity’s inherent individual talent, the youth infrastructure set in place by the National Rifle Authority of India (NRAI) has already begun paying its dividends.
One example of systematic success across all age categories is Kynan Chenai. The 26-year-old from Hyderabad is India’s youngest men’s shooter. A meteoric two-year rise from junior to senior success has seen him consistently compete against the most experienced of Olympians.
Youth product shining in India’s most experienced shooting category
In fact, Kynan attained qualification before Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee Manavjit Singh Sandhu, who is set for his fourth Olympics in two months. Competing at the Asia Olympic qualification event, Kynan was the first shotgun category Indian participant to book his Rio slot. He finished fourth, taking the final and penultimate spot, ahead of compatriot and six time Asian Champion Manavjit.
However, Manavijit would later qualify through the selection trials. India’s most experienced and youngest campaigners in shooting competing in the same format highlights how the sport has strongly focussed on its grassroots development.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda from Italy, Kynan said, “I mean we all dream of making it to the Olympics, that’s our ultimate dream, for me it’s only just beginning. To be competing against such experienced guys gives me confidence of winning a medal at Rio. The main goal is a medal not qualification.”
Currently ranked 28th in the world, Kynan’s qualification was basic natural progression. A look into his junior career indicates a definite shot at an Olympic medal in the future.
In 2003, Hyderabad hosted the National Games, which meant the city received its international level shooting range. Post the event, it was opened up to the public, this was when Kynan had his first tryst with shooting. He said, “I used to go with my father everyday and learn whatever I could. I was just fascinated by the sport, and its endless possibilities. This is where I first came to know about shooting.”
Despite excelling at the sport in the junior level, Kynan’s first love was hockey. While studying in Hebron school, Ooty, he captained the hockey, swimming and football teams to resounding local success. But, when it came to make the choice, he seemingly made the right one.
A series of victories in junior trap events such as the Commonwealth Youth Games, saw him eventually make the senior team in 2008. He added, “I was already shooting with the professionals such as four time Olympian Mansher Singh at the time. I was in the junior team, but was regularly competing against senior. In 2008, I finally turned 18 and had the opportunity to go Senior Pro, after spending a couple of years as Junior Pro. When you’re competing against the best, and I mean competing not just making the numbers, you realise you’re destined to do that.”
Fighting for National senior team spots whilst a junior
Kynan's first major breakthrough came in 2008, when he won silver at the Asian Clay shooting Championship. This particular victory put him on the international map as a forced to be reckoned with. However, during the same time he was facing a life-changing decision.
He said, “Around 2009 or 2010, I was discussing with my parents whether I would go for further studies abroad or continue with shooting. I told them that this is what I want to do, and they were like we will back you up completely. I’m glad they agreed to this, and they’re why I’m going to Rio.”
With most of shooting’s Olympic medal winners falling in the age gap of 27 – 40, Kynan is in unchartered territory. Both of India’s other two shotgun representatives are either touching 40 or above it. But, the situation doesn’t daunt him one bit.
He said, “Manav treats me like a younger brother, and I think of him as the same. There is no bad blood within us, we are competitors and he has taught me a lot in my career.”
A testament to India’s grassroots development programme
One of the secrets to Kynan’s fearless attitude is his physical fitness. Arguably one of the fittest shooters around, he has invested a lot of time in growing an aspect often ignored by others. He added, “I have always personally believed that shooting is 50 % physical and 50 % psychological. In fact there was a time when I used to train my physical side more. It not only gives a person confidence, but also keeps you in shape to deal with decision to be made. It takes an approximate shot 0.6 seconds to execute you have to be at your best during that time. It is only possible if you’re completely fit.”
The recent surge of Junior shooting in India can be attributed to the NRAI. Shooters now attend a minimum of four World Cups, which was not the case, during Kynan’s time. The recently concluded World Cup saw the Indian contingent secure fourth position overall, winning 3 gold, 4 silvers and 3 bronze medals.
A youth interaction programme, including added funding for young rookies such as Kynan graduate to the senior level with relative ease. Kynan added, “The shooting programme came around 2008, 2009, when I was graduating to becoming senior. Towards the later end of my junior career, now you can see the reward. Fourth best junior shooting country highlights how well the programme is working. During my time, there were funds for attending only one or two World Cup event in year. Now all that has changes, there is more structure, and focus on the shooter’s needs.”
His father, Darius Chenai is also a national level shooter, and General Secretary of the NRAI. Shooting is in the family blood, and of course hand down of material. A lot of equipment cost was nullified, including the gun, which was given to him by his father.
Now training in Italy, Kynan finished 20th in the ISSF World Cup event in San Marino. He said, “I’m training hard and I know once you make it to the finals, anything can happen. I’m not going there to make the numbers, I will be fighting for gold.”
Regardless of the outcome in Rio, Kynan’s rise to make the Olympic cut is testament to how India’s shooting future and present are in safe hands.Published 09 Jun 2016, 11:50 IST