New Delhi: When Rajmond Debevec first entered an Olympic village 35 years ago, Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever, was not born; the country that Debevec represented — Yugoslavia — was six years away from disintegration, and the inaugural ISSF World Cup was still two years away. It is safe to say that he is among the oldest, if not the oldest shooter going around.
The three-time Olympic medallist Slovenian is in the capital, gunning for his ninth Olympics appearance, despite dwindling form and rise of younger contenders.
On Sunday, his bid for a berth at the Tokyo Games received another jolt as he finished 35th in the 50-metre 3 Positions Qualifications with a score of 1165.
The result didn't come as an aberration. After a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, he failed to qualify for the Rio Games four years later. While frequent rule changes have done their bit in disturbing the status quo in the pecking order, the genial Slovenian graciously accepted that he has not been at his best of late.
"I am nowhere near the top or nowhere close to being my best. My older body is not the same too," he told Firstpost.
"My level of success has toned down over the years. I was not good enough to get a quota place for the Rio Olympics. Since then, the ISSF and International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed the Olympic programme to a smaller format (45-shot final). I have been struggling in this format for a couple of years and chances of me getting an Olympic berth look tough. I am still optimistic though."
Despite recent struggles, Debevec is no stranger to glory. With over 100 international medals across World Cups, World Championships, Olympics and a host of other world events, the 56-year-old has won everything there is in his sport. Jaded as it sounds, it's his undying passion for shooting that pushes him to chug along.
"It is hard to say that I still have that same excitement when I first shot. But shooting is still my passion. It drives me. I still feel the joy in my sport. I like this... I enjoy this. I am a member of the military sports club, so it is also my job. It is a rare opportunity to do a job and enjoy it at the same time," he says.
In such a mentally draining sport, getting in and out of the zone is imperative. Shooters spend as much time on the mental aspect of the game as their techniques to enter the perfect mindspace to consistently shoot optimum scores, and the task multiplies manifold in the 3-Positions event.
Long years in the range though have ensured that switching on and off comes naturally to him. "It is tough, but I am used to it now. I still get upset in the lane, the adrenaline is still there."
From being a medallist in the inaugural ISSF World Cup in 1986 to pressing to become only the second shooter to compete in nine Olympics, Debevec has time-travelled shooting generations and is reasonably chuffed at the ever-expanding field.
"Many things have changed since the time I started. The level of shooting has grown fantastically. I am impressed with the sheer number of top-class shooters coming in. When I started, this was not the case. There were not that many; maybe 10-15 world class shooters. Now, that number has gone up to 40-50.
"It has become a viable career option and the pool has expanded. Many countries are now investing in preparations and psychological aspect of the game. It takes a very high level of performance to become a shooting star in most countries," the six-time World Championships medallist said.
Debevec's advancing age means he has resorted to a specialised physical training programme to keep himself in shape. He runs and climbs to ensure the endurance and stamina stays and focusses a lot more on his back.
"Of course, my body is not how it used to be when I was young, so I have to do special exercises for my back. But I am in a friendly sport and have had a relatively injury-free career. I know some colleagues have had trouble with back and elbow, but since its a non-contact sport, the chances of injury are rare. We don't fight anyone in this sport, we just fight ourselves."
The global phenomenon of the emergence of fresh talent has touched India too and the arrival of an exciting bunch of teenagers on the shooting scene attests to that. Debevec credits the coming together of seasoned experts and raw talent for that and is certain that India will continue to do well for some time.
"India is a massive country, so the talent keeps coming. In Slovenia, we have fewer shooters overall than the number of top shooters in India. The other day, Sanjeev Rajput showed me the results list of national championships and there were 2400 shooters competing in rifle alone. In Slovenia, the total number of registered shooters is less than that. So you have more participants here and in all disciplines, which is very encouraging.
"Many countries have started to prepare a lot more professionally. In India too you have foreign coaches for a few years now. You always had many talented shooters, it was just a matter of that talent reaching the right experts. Now you have coaches from Ukraine, you have organisations like Guns for Glory and coaches like Anton Belak. Finally, you have experts and shooters coming together, and I am sure the level of shooting in India will only go higher and win many more medals," he said.
Updated Date: Feb 24, 2019 13:26:40 IST