For a few noisy minutes on Thursday, the 10m air rifle hall at Beijing resembled a cricket stadium. With India's Anjum Moudgil and Divyansh Singh Panwar facing off against local favourites Ruxuan Liu and Haoran Yang in the final of the 10m air rifle mixed team event at the Beijing World Cup, a few local fans had brought in vuvuzelas and were showing that they were not shy of using them.
Moudgil — having shot a 10.1 with her last effort — stared at her monitor, her face a mask of agony. She was probably praying her 16-year-old partner would shoot a 10.3 or better, which would hand the Indian pair a gold medal.
It was a situation unlike any Panwar has been exposed to in his budding career. For one, it was the first time he was competing in the senior 10m mixed air rifle event. It was also the first World Cup where he had made it to the final.
The stakes were high. For a 16-year-old in his first senior final, they should have been monumental.
Yet, somehow, despite the pressure of the occasion and the noise from the partisan crowd rising and subsiding like a headache, Panwar shot a 10.5 on his last attempt to seal gold for India.
While Moudgil was the senior shooter among the two, it was Panwar's composure which stood out all through an evening. While the Liu-Yang pairing and Moudgil took their shots quickly, Panwar took his time, despite the knowledge that the home fans would create a din to perturb him.
"Divyansh showed the kind of focus he has when the final began. He was never unsettled by the noise the fans were making. While it was Anjum who was keeping the morale high in the previous rounds, it was Divyansh who stood his ground to ensure gold," national junior rifle coach Deepali Deshpande told Firstpost on Thursday from Beijing.
"After Divyansh and Anjum beat a better-ranked Russian pair in the semis, Divyansh told me that he wasn't expecting to be in the final at all. He's a young shooter, so it wasn't unexpected for him to be thinking that."
'Wrong temperament for rifle shooter'
"When I had first seen him in 2017, he didn't seem like he had the right temperament to be an air rifle shooter," Deshpande had told Firstpost ahead of the New Delhi Shooting World Cup in February.
"If you look at most rifle shooters, they're very quiet. The event in itself is like that. Divyansh was a very naughty boy when he first came to the Indian camp. He was an extrovert, very unlike the typical air rifle proponent."
Suma Shirur, who was appointed the High-Performance Coach of the junior team last year, also remembers seeing Panwar for the first time at the national camp and thinking that he was a peculiar boy, who seemed a little out of sync.
"He didn't know much about technique. But I could tell that he was a raw talent."
She was, however, quick to dismiss the notion of the archetypal introverted rifle shooter: "The game has only changed over the last few years. The current generation is a lot more open. They're not like us."
While Panwar did not feature in the 10m air rifle mixed team event in New Delhi, he finished 12th in the men's 10m air rifle — two spots above Ravi Kumar and 22 above Deepak Kumar.
On Thursday, Panwar's temperament was on full display.
While the atmosphere in the stands oscillated from raucous cricket stadium to library within seconds, the fortunes of the four shooters at the centre had also swung like a pendulum throughout the final. As per the new format being tested by the ISSF at the Beijing World Cup in order to make the 10m air rifle mixed team event more exciting and easy to understand for fans, 16 points are needed to seal victory. A higher aggregate in a series fetches two points with equal scores earning the pairs one point apiece.
The Indians surged to a 4-0 lead quickly before the home pair caught up by winning the next two series. Soon enough, it was the home pair which went up 15-13, needing just a point to take home the gold medal. But Divyansh's composure despite his young years, helped the Indian pair get home.
"Over the last few years, Divyansh has learnt the importance of staying focussed. Of course, when I had seen him two years ago, he was barely 14. You don't expect a lot of maturity from anyone that age," Deshpande said on Thursday.
Shirur has worked closely with Panwar over the last year in the national set-up, but it was really at the Lakshya Cup — an invitation only tournament open to the top 20 rifle shooters of the country — earlier this year that he gave notice of his talent.
His 252.3 in the final of the Lakshya Cup in Mumbai was better than the world record of 251.2 set by Russia's Alexander Dryagin at the 2018 Changwon World Cup.
"That performance really helped reinforce his belief in himself," said Shirur.
Shirur said that before she could help him become a better shooter, she had to gain his trust. "The first hurdle for me with him was to gain his trust. Once he learnt that I was an Olympic finalist and a world record holder myself, he became more receptive to me. I also showed him my SCATT scores (a training system for shooters) which helped him understand how he can grow as a shooter as well," added Shirur.
Besides Panwar and Moudgil's victory, Thursday also brought along a gold for India in the 10m mixed air pistol event, courtesy two teens — Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker.
"If anything, this day has showed that the younger generation is here to stay," said Deshpande, who credits the results the younger bunch is producing to the NRAI's youth development system and the know-how that coaches like herself and Shirur bring to the table.
"These are system generated results. The previous junior batch, let's say Anjum's, didn't have everything so well-defined for them."
With the country buzzing about Panwar's gold — just like it did about the success of shooters like Chaudhary and Bhaker in recent years — Deshpande sees scope for improvement.
"There will be a transition period with Divyansh as well — physically, mentally and emotionally. Growing up, there will be ups and downs in his form. But he's got things locked in perfectly at the moment," she said.
Rifle shooting can seem an awkward art. With one elbow digging into their sides, rifle shooters have to stand in uncomfortable positions while ensuring they are steady while shooting. With his overly arched back, Panwar's posture is unique.
"If he needs longevity for his career, he may have to tweak his posture. With the way his back arches, he may pick up injuries. But it is not wise to work on it now. It will have to be done when there's a longer gap between tournaments," said Deshpande.
Shirur though believes that Panwar can do without changing his posture. "The arched back is not a problem as long as you're not unfit. Divyansh is one of the fittest I've seen."
One thing no one will disagree with though is that Panwar could be one for the future.
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Updated Date: Apr 26, 2019 08:28:17 IST