When Mampi Das first took up shooting at the age of 11 – she couldn’t even hold up the gun herself. Her mom, Lakshmi Das, would hold it up for her or sometimes the table would act as a substitute. But even then she had a knack of hitting the bullseye.
Now, she is much stronger and even though it’s still early days, the 16-year-old Mampi Das gives India many reasons to be optimistic of future Olympic glory.
In September 2012, Mampi matched the world record score of 400/400 in women’s air rifle event during the National selections trials at the Shiv Chatrapati Sports Complex. But the moment was made doubly special by something that happened prior to her stepping up to shoot.
Shalini Chahar, another young shooter, had shot 399 and it meant that to win the event Mampi needed to shoot 400. But the young girl from Kolkata didn’t bat an eyelid before saying: “If she can do it, so can I.”
This kind of confidence is something you have to be born with. Sure enough, she came out and shot a 400. It was only the third time that an Indian woman shooter has shot a perfect score. Suma Shiroor had performed the feat in 2004 at the Asian Shooting Championships in Kuala Lumpur to enter the record books.
But, Mampi's effort was not considered as a world record since the nationals and selection trials are not taken into account by the International Shooting Sports Federation.
“I had shot 400 so many times in practice that I knew I could do it. So I just stepped up and shot – and managed 400. It was great. I like shooting because I like to win; to win medals. And shooting allows me to do that,” said Mampi.
“My mom helped me get into the sport. She wanted to take up shooting but my grandfather didn’t allow her to do that. So in many ways, I am living her dream and it sure feels good.”
Over the past few years, Mampi has consistently shot around 398 in competition but her performance in the Nationals dipped a little. She shot 393 and finished in ninth place. But she clinched gold in the youth category (under-18) and also claimed a bronze in the junior category (under-22).
Since 2007, Mampi has been coached by P T Raghunath and now that she is part of the senior India team as well, India coach Stanislaus Lapidus has taken her under his wing. She is also part of Gagan Narang’s academy so she is not going to be short on good advice.
“Obviously, I want to win at the Olympics but right now, I want to concentrate on the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. If I can do well there, it will give me a lot of confidence,” said Mampi.
And it may also give her a ticket to the Olympics. There is also talk about putting a new selection policy in place which will send the winner of the CWG gold and the Asian Games to the Olympics. As of now, the proposal has not been ratified by the Indian shooting federation.
Mampi’s confidence and her vivacity are evident but shooting, on the whole, is a solitary sport. It’s almost like you are in your own world – concentrating on one single point and nothing else. So how does she control her emotions while shooting?
“It’s important not to think about anything while shooting. Any little thought can distract you and that in turn can lead to you missing the mark. If you miss, you might just miss out on a medal too and I like to win.”
For now, though, India should be glad that a new generation of shooters is starting to make its presence felt. India’s shooting dreams first came to life when Anjali Bhagwat made an impact at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She also became the only Indian to have won the ISSF Champions’ Trophy in Air Rifle Men & Women mixed event at Munich in 2002.
Suma Shirur and Deepali Deshpande were other shooters who made a mark in the 10m Air Rifle event. But at the London Games, India didn’t have even one shooter in the category but Mampi and others like 20-year-old Ayonika Paul and 17-year-old Sriyanka Sadangi promise to change all that.