For someone who is a double gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games 2006, a bronze medallist at the Asian Games 2006, runner-up at the Asian Championships in 2007, silver medallist at the 2009 ISSF World Cup and an Arjuna Award recipient, Vijay Kumar comes across as the most chilled out and down-to-earth person.
The moment he had his hand wrapped around my shoulder while speaking to me at an Olympic Gold Quest press conference, I realised that he was one who gave the little details importance. A friendly chat is always a pleasure for any journalist. Not only was he unfazed with all the glaring lights and cameras, but with that small gesture I was suddenly speaking to a friend, not a future Olympic medallist. It made me forget the lights, my slight inexperience and the constantly barging in by the TV mics.
But as soon as he grabs his pistol, the soft-spoken, mellow and mysterious aura is gone. Cut to the army subedar looking ominously at his targets before smashing them in a consistent fashion.
“I understand expectation on shooters is always high,” he said, “but we are mentally well prepared for the Olympics.”
And that is what won him a silver medal at the highest stage. Vijay Kumar kept his nerve when the Chinese shooters and Germany’s Christian Reitz were knocked out in a close final of the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol in London.
Actually, he had guessed that Russia and Germany will be the toughest opponents, and thankfully, both of them lost out. He may have been wrong there, but shooting is all about what sort of day you have… and Kumar had an amazing one.
One thing which stood out during the interview was the frequency of him talking about ‘mental strength’.
“I am concentrating more on mental strength in respect to the new format. We don’t just keep shooting all day, but we need to do a lot of yoga and other concentration exercises to keep going.”
He also spoke about how surroundings matter for a shooter. “The correct atmosphere is vital for a shooter to develop. Being in the army has helped me a lot.”
Kumar, who is 27-years-old, held a gun in his hands for the first time in 2003 i.e. when he was an 18-year-old.
Given that, he has ‘rapidly’ (pun intended) developed into a fine shooter and has accomplished what every Indian athlete dreams of: an Olympic medal.
He probably spoke the least among all athletes present there, and has — for now, achieved the most.