A second's lapse in concentration can cost you the medal - Olympic shooter Avneet Sidhu's message to Tokyo aspirants

One bad shot can ruin it all - Avneet Sidhu on shooter's mental pressure
One bad shot can ruin it all - Avneet Sidhu on shooter's mental pressure

The Tokyo Olympics is just two days away now. The Asaka Shooting Ranges at the Tokyo Olympic Games are preparing themselves for some incredible matches. As preparations continue, Sportskeeda has had an exclusive chat with Beijing Olympian in women’s 10m air rifle shooter, Avneet Sidhu. She talked about the nitty gritty of precision shooting amongst other things.

According to Avneet Sidh, the mind should be tuned to withstand high intensity pressure right from day-one of Olympic preparations. This is because in precision shooting it is much harder to recover the lost ground than in many other sports. The Arjuna awardee in shooting said:

“Years of hard training. Huge investment in terms of international exposure isn’t enough to prepare for an event like the Olympics. Unless until your mind is constantly being tuned to stay calm in extreme conditions."

Avneet shared an interesting story of how a second's lapse in concentration cost her a medal in Beijing.

She said that it was halfway through a contest at the women’s 10m air rifle shooting event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games when a thought had pricked her mind:

"I am on course to enter the final. Hence, instead of focusing on my rhythm, I got excited about entering the medal round. The distraction at a crucial juncture in the competition spoiled my chances of making the cut for the medal round."

She further recalled:

“In the qualification round I entered my inner zone sooner than expected. The first 24 shots of the match were excellent. That was the time when this thought pricked my mind (that I’m on course to enter the final). That was the time my mind started playing games. It went out of control. It spoiled my score and I was out of the race for the final of the women’s 10m air rifle event."

Avneet said that despite good preparation, it is impossible to recover the lost ground in precision shooting.

“One bad shot in a high-quality competition means you are on the edge. It also means pressure to regain lost ground will be taxing on the mind. When you start doing things that you haven’t done in training, things get bad to worse,” she added.

Avneet's experience of the Beijing Olympics

Avneet said the Olympic preparatory camp for the 2008 Beijing Games went on the expected lines.

“We had a 10-day camp in Malaysia to acclimatise to weather conditions in China. The last 10 days of training were basically tapering. The training load was gradually decreased to recover from mental and physical stress of hard work done over a long period of time,” said the Punjab rifle shooter.
18th Commonwealth Games - Day 5: Pistol Shooting
18th Commonwealth Games - Day 5: Pistol Shooting

The Indian shooting team, said Avneet, flew directly from Malaysia to Beijing. The last few days in the buildup to Beijing Olympics were easy. Upon reaching the Olympic Games Village, the Indian shooters took a day-break before heading to the shooting ranges for pre-event practice.

“We did not immediately start training. We were all a bit tired due to jet lag and collecting sports kit and accreditation,” she recalled.

According to the Arjuna awardee, she had three or four good practice sessions before her main event at the Olympic shooting ranges in Beijing.

Also Read: Sachin Tendulkar has an inspiring message for India's Tokyo Olympic-bound athletes

“The atmosphere was electrifying. It takes time to soak in the new environment. In the company of the world's best athletes there is a different kind of excitement,” she revealed.

Since the women’s 10-meter air rifle was the opening event of the shooting competition, three Indian shooters including Avneet, Anjali Bhagwat and Abhinav Bindra skipped the grand opening ceremony, to avoid exertion.

“All three of us watched the opening ceremony on a big screen and then went back to our respective rooms to get good night's sleep,” added Avneet.

The international shooter said the mind starts playing games even before you step at the shooting ranges. The first thing is you aren’t able to get to sleep.

“I could hardly sleep the night before my match. I didn’t even felt hungry the next morning. I was surprised the mind had started working on different issues. But I kept calm. Despite not feeling hungry, I had breakfast,” she added.

Avneet said foreign rifle coach Laszlo Szucsak's last minute advice was to do what you have been doing in training and not to complicate things.

“Stick to fundamentals of shootings. That’s what all the coaches say. But that’s the most difficult thing to do when the mind starts wavering,” she explains.

According to Avneet, her mind had calmed down when she settled down at the firing point.

The competition rules were different in 2008. It was a 40-shot preliminary round match and the top eight entered the final. Preliminary round scores were also added to the final round. The duration of the match was 75 minutes. The competitors were allowed to have practice shots or sighters.

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“Before I actually started my match, I had 20 practice shots, which meant I spent roughly 20 minutes of my 75 minutes. I wasn’t satisfied with my practice shots. With time running out, I took a deep breath and I started my match. To my surprise after 3-4 shots of the 40 shots match, I settled down into a good rhythm,” she said.

The first 24 shots of the match were excellent, she said. I was on course to enter the final, but poor finishing robbed me of a place in the final.

“I failed to control my mind after I crossed the halfway stage of the competition. It resulted in a bad 25 shot. It landed in 9 ring circle. The thoughts started multiplying as I wasn’t able to recover the lost ground,” recalls Avneet.

Since the match was over for Avneet at the end of the 25th shot, the last 15 shots were just a routine procedure.

“The thought of high scores and entering the final before the match was over spoiled my day. From being a medal hope I was in the also-ran category. It's all gone in a flash,” she said on missing the final.

Avneet said that later, when Abhinav Bindra won the gold medal in the men’s 10m air rifle, the first individual medal for India in shooting, the mood changed.

“We were all elated. And joined the celebrations,” she added.

The Punjab’s international shooter couldn’t make cut for the 2012 London Olympics or 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I have different priorities now. But someday I hope to make a comeback,” she added.

Also Read: Pressure of Olympics could give you sleepless nights, says pistol shooter Heena Sidhu

Also Checkout: Tokyo Olympics 2021 Schedule

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Edited by Diptanil Roy
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