Many of India’s shooting medallists or medal prospects will not be allowed to drive a car, let alone be given guns to play with. Yet these teenagers have taken to guns and begun shooting down medals by the bucketful. Each day has brought a teen superstar. From Lakshay Sheoran (19), to Saurabh Chaudhary (16), and now the latest is Shardul Vihan at 15. A few others like Anish Bhanwala (15), Manu Bhaker (16), and Mehul Ghosh (17) are waiting to bloom and add to the medals. Maybe not this time, but it will all happen very soon.
Logically, all the above should be competing and winning at the Junior section, but they have barely competed in them and have now begun to take the senior section by storm. Funds, exposure and more focussed training by the Indian and foreign coaches, sometimes organised by the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) and often by the individuals themselves have begun to bear fruit.
The success of these and other teens also debunks the myth that shooters mature into their 30s. Many of them have had a history of representing India at Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth for a decade and a half and more.
It was often said that shooters mature into champions after going through the drill for some years to be able to handle the intense pressure of global competition. But these youngsters know no fear. Most of them are still grappling with various activities ranging from homework to practice and physical training. And some of them, like Shardul Vihan, make light of travelling from Meerut to Karni Singh Range in Tughlakabad in Delhi.
These kids handle guns with the same panache as a Gameboy or any other gizmo. Their day is certainly packed more than any ordinary person. If Saurabh at 16 was the youngest Indian to strike Asian Games gold, 15-year-old Vihan on Thursday became the youngest Indian shooter to win a medal at any Asian Games.
Vihan, who like Saurabh, hails from the area close to Meerut, topped the Qualification round in Double Trap and then went all the way to the silver. The gold went to 34-year-old South Korean Hyunwoo Shin, who was shooting way before Vihan was born and the 42-year-old bronze medallist from Qatar, Hamad Ali Al Marri, even took part in 2002 Asian Games, a year before Vihan was born.
Vihan, who is still in class 10 at the Dayawati Modi Academy in Modipuram, took to shooting only four years ago, when he met the Shamli-based coach Anwar Sultan, a former Indian shooter.
Hailing from a family and area, where guns are fairly commonplace, his first serious tryst with it was a local North Zone meet in 2014 where he won a medal. He knew what he wanted to do.
Last year, he won four national titles and rounded it off with a medal at ISSF Junior World Cup in Germany. He knew he was going to up against opponents twice or even thrice his age, but he had nothing to lose and shot without fear. And guess what he likes to do when he is not shooting or playing computer games. He loves cooking. An omelette, a typical dal or an aloo-jeera and the ilk. That sure helps when you are travelling and are craving for home-made food.
Lakshay. Saurabh. Shaudul. Anish. Manu. Mehuli. Keep track of these names, you will be hearing them a lot in the next decade or two or even more.