Sitting in front of the television, 10- year-old Abhinav Shaw is in splits watching his favourite cartoon series –Jab Jholmaal Hai - a story of a pet parrot, a pair of cats and a dog. It’s a momentary break from his frenetic schedule which includes completing his studies, making mental notes of his training at the shooting range and then undertaking a three-hour train journey from his hometown of Asansol to Kolkata for practice.
It is not a normal routine for a class six student but then Abhinav is not an ordinary kid. A gold medal in the nationals in 2018 in the mixed event of the 10-metre air rifle made the shooting fraternity sit up and take notice. To ensure, the performance was no flash in the pan, the youngster once again bagged a gold in the same event at the Khelo India Youth Games. The gold medals have now earned Abhinav an opportunity to take part in the trials with the senior national team in March this year and a good showing there could earn him a place in the Indian team in the forthcoming tournaments.
“I simply love shooting. I do not feel any pressure nor am I scared of the hard work. I have a dream. I want to win a medal in the Olympics,’’ says Abhinav, a day after returning home with a gold medal at the Khelo India Youth Games. “Winning the gold in Khelo India Youth Games was more satisfying than my junior national championship triumph because I really enjoyed the shooting range in Pune,’’ adds the little champion who combined with yet another young gun Mehuli Ghosh to win the mixed event.
But the road ahead is more challenging as the youngster will soon be thrown at the deep end, ready to take on the best rifle shooters in the country.
“It is a bit surreal as a coach to talk to a 10-year-old on how to compete with some of the best rifle shooters in the country. I do not want to put too much pressure on the youngster at this stage of his career. I would rather want him to enjoy the sport without the burden of expectations and suffering a burnout,’’ says Joydeep Karmakar, a former shooter who has been coaching Abhinav for the last couple of years in his academy in Kolkata.
“The gold medals at the nationals and at the Khelo India Youth Games where he competed in the under-21 category are huge achievements but he now has to work on improving the scores. The competition in the 10m air rifle is a world-class field even in the junior level with the likes of Hriday Hazarika, Divyansh Singh Panwar and Arjun Babuta taking giant strides,’’ says Karmakar. Sixteen-year-old Hazarika won the Junior World Championship last year, while Panwar and Babuta have also won medals in international meets in junior categories. In the senior category, Ravi Kumar and Deepak Kumar have been the most consistent performers for India in the event made famous by Abhinav Bindra’s historic gold medal in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. “To really make a big impact and compete with the top rifle shooters in individual events, young Abhinav needs to improve his current average score of 620 (from 60 shots) to around 624,’’ adds Karmakar.
The challenges ahead may be daunting but a fearless Abhinav has never been overawed by it. In 2017, as an eight-year-old, he became the youngest shooter to qualify in the senior nationals. “He is a rare talent and more matured than kids of his age group. There is a fire in his belly and he is a very quick learner,’’ asserts Karmakar.
The destiny of this prodigious talent to become a shooter was shaped much before he came to this world. His father Rupesh was fascinated by sports from an early age, especially rifle shooting. He would visit the Asansol Rifle Club, the lone shooting range in the vicinity, a number of times, but the exorbitant membership costs meant he could never pursue it. But the love for shooting refused to wane.
“In 2008 when Abhinav Bindra won the gold, I was very excited. Though my child was not yet born at that point, I decided that if I had a son, I would name him Abhinav,’’ recounts Rupesh, Abhinav’s father. “Luckily for me, Abhinav showed a keen interest in shooting from an early age. He was just six when I took him to a school level tournament being held at the Joydeep Karmakar Shooting Academy (JKSA). It was here that he caught the eye of Karmakar who decided to take him under his wings. Despite not having a proper jacket and shoes, Abhinav went on to win the event,’’ says Rupesh narrating the early days. “Shooting is an expensive sport and it is often a struggle to provide him with all the necessary equipment and gears. I have often bought guns from the second-hand market and even borrowed his first pair of shooting shoes from National Cadet Corps.”
With increasing workload, Karmakar wants Abhinav to relocate to Kolkata to cut down on his traveling time from Asansol. “At the moment, we travel to Kolkata and stay with our friends for a couple of days when Abhinav undergoes training at JKSA. But we are looking at options to permanently shift to Kolkata which will help him to train better without the distractions of travelling,’’ says Rupesh who has refused to take up any permanent jobs and devote most of his time to groom his son’s career. To sustain the family, he takes tuition classes in science and mathematics for young school children.
Abhinav still has a long journey ahead to emulate the achievements of India’s shooting icon after whom he was named. But the blazing start to his career has raised hopes of a bright future.
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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2019 12:51:16 IST