From Khel Ratna to Khel Protsahan, shooter Gagan Narang completes sporting circle

For Gagan Narang, the Khel Protsahan award marks a seamless, even poetic transition from a player to player-mentor. If the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in 2010 attested his status as one of country’s leading sportspersons, the latest honour is a recognition of his endeavour to set up structures and processes.

Shantanu Srivastava August 23, 2019 18:19:53 IST
From Khel Ratna to Khel Protsahan, shooter Gagan Narang completes sporting circle
  • Come National Sports Day, and Narang’s eight-year-old brainchild — Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation — will be conferred with Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar.

  • For Narang, the Foundation marks a seamless, even poetic transition from a player to player-mentor.

  • If the Khel Ratna in 2010 attested Narang's status as one of country’s leading sportspersons, the latest honour is a recognition of his endeavour to set up structures and processes.

New Delhi: The precise day or year is sketchy, but when the signs of a stellar shooting career first revealed themselves, Gagan Narang’s parents decided to sell their house and move to a rented accommodation so that they may afford a rifle for their son.

Years rolled on and medals began to accumulate. But it was not until 2006 that Narang's could move to their own house. Gagan’s mind, observant as that of most shooters, took notes. He noted the struggles of his parents, and later his own travails with the system (or lack of it), and in 2011, founded the Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation while still being an active shooter.

Come National Sports Day, and Narang’s eight-year-old brainchild — raised, as it were, with Narang’s prize money from the 2010 Commonwealth Games — will be conferred with Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar.

For Narang, it marks a seamless, even poetic transition from a shooter to player-mentor. If the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in 2010 attested his status as one of country’s leading sportspersons, the latest honour is a recognition of his endeavour to set up structures and processes.

“When I started, I saw a number of fellow shooters struggle for basic facilities. I would lend my rifle and equipment if someone needed, but there were no structures. I was just a passionate individual who simply jumped into the pool, not knowing how deep the pool was or how far I can go,” Narang recalled in a conversation with Firstpost.

From Khel Ratna to Khel Protsahan shooter Gagan Narang completes sporting circle

Gagan Narang won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. AFP

Among the first challenges that Narang and Pawan Singh (Narang’s friend and co-founder of Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation) sought to address was the issue of affordable equipment. From his own experience, Narang was aware of the monetary toll a gun entails, and he knew of the pressure that a family that has been pushed to its financial brink exerts on an upstart shooter.

The duo spoke to a number of weapon manufacturers to remove the entry-level barrier, and succeeded.

“We reduced that basic cost of a gun from Rs 2-2.5 lakh to Rs 5,000-10,000 so that no parent has to sell his/her house. Next, we observed that people were spending a lot to train for 20-30 days under a foreign coach. So we decided to bring a foreign coach to India and let shooters train under them on the same cost throughout the year,” he said.

While his Foundation keeps him busy for better part of the day — “I am probably not good at anything other than shooting,” he quipped — Gagan is still an active shooter and is gearing up for his fifth Olympics. He is still non-committal of his chances to make the cut for Tokyo, but the 36-year-old added that he is “enjoying the process” and “shooting better than ever.”

“I have not thought of my future,” Narang, who won the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, said. “I took the first longest break of my career last year after the World Championships. I started shooting again only in February-March this year. At the moment, I am just enjoying my sport. As long as I continue to enjoy and feel the love for the game, I will continue to shoot. I am doing things for my happiness, and I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.”

While Narang is happy to take things slow, the Indian shooting, in general, has galloped to exciting times. The likes of Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary, Elavenil Velarivan, and Divyansh Panwar represent a fresh, fearless breed of shooters who seem undaunted by lows and unperturbed by highs. For Narang, it’s an odd sense of achievement and familiarity, for he can see his distilled knowledge at play.

“When I look at the youngsters, I feel that our knowledge has started coming back into the system. What took us years to achieve or master, these kids are doing it in three years. Will they be able to sustain it for as long as we did is something that is unanswered, and it is something the youngsters can answer with their performances."

“The current team transitioned well from us to this particular lot, and shooters like Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil have already become senior shooters. There’s a younger lot eager to step into their shoes, so these are exciting times for Indian shooting,” he said.

Having tasted success at the highest echelons of his chosen craft, the boy who once watched his parents sell off their house to pay for his rifle is, for once, happy not to aim for the destination, but relish the ride. “In front of me lies the journey, which I am thoroughly enjoying. Results, selection, and gratification come later,” Narang mused. He wouldn’t mind the odd Khel Protsahan trophy and citation along the way though.

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