CHENNAI: At a time when young guns have been dominating the shooting circuit in India, seasoned Sanjeev Rajput is a rare exception. At 38, he is one of the senior-most members of the national side due to compete in the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi, next month.
The emergence of Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary and many more teenagers has seen a number of renowned shooters lose their relevance. But Rajput, who has been in the trade since 2001, continues to be one of the best in the business. Countless competitions, medals and two Olympic appearances to his name, Rajput has tasted it all. But he is aware that those accolades won’t buy him a future. “Whosoever comes more prepared, he/she becomes the senior,” he says with a laugh.
“I started shooting when I was 24 and now there are youngsters these days who are winning internationals medals at 16. So, I would like to call them seniors.” There is lightheartedness in his tone, but there’s a lot of truth to it. Perhaps that is something that keeps him fired up. “Experience does help for sure but I believe every match is a new match. You start from zero,” the Arjuna awardee adds.
The 50m rifle 3 positions shooter is expecting a stern challenge in the World Cup, which will have Olympic quotas on offer. “The fact that we are performing at home adds to pressure. The fans who visit the range understand the sport. The sport has grown a lot with plenty of shooting academies coming up. I believe it’s going to be tough for every participant.”
What makes Rajput’s longevity even more impressive is the fact that he has faced multiple knocks in the past. Formerly with the Indian Air Force, he had quit the post in 2014 after the Haryana government promised a job. But that never materialised and he was living on his savings and competing at the same time. He finally secured a job with SAI.
But that didn’t last long as there were allegations of sexual harassment against him (he has always maintained his innocence) by a former colleague. He was subsequently fired from SAI. His mantra then was simple, ‘work hard and it will pay off’. “I just give my 100 per cent every time. I never lost belief.” The NRAI and his family also never lost belief in him. “My friends and family have been really supportive. I’m also thankful to the NRAI and SAI,” Rajput, who is part of the TOP Scheme, says.
One person who has been a rock for him is India’s foreign coach Oleg Mikhailov. “Once he is here, I will get that chance to fine-tune technical aspects of my game. So it will be a big boost.”
Under the close watch of Mikhailov, Rajput had a rich 2018, gunning down Commonwealth Games gold and Asian Games silver. “I could have done even better. Whatever I have achieved, it was great and I’m hopeful that I can continue to produce good results. Also, I have to ensure that my performance graph is gradual given that the Olympics is near. If I peak too soon, that would definitely affect my performance in the marquee event.”