There is a glint in Gagan Narang’s eyes. Sitting adjacent to the Centre for Sports Science’s cafeteria inside the Sri Ramachandra Medical College campus, the Olympic medallist has just made a revelation. After taking a break from shooting for more than 18 months, he is eyeing a comeback. But that isn’t the main reason for the glint in his eyes. He is talking about his charges, the ones he has been mentoring — he reiterates more than once that he cannot be classified as a coach — under his umbrella project, the Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation (GNPSF).
He has lived many dreams but he wants to give an unfulfilled one one last chance. “The (ultimate) dream,” he says with a boyish smile, “would be go to the Olympics (Tokyo 2020) with somebody I train and win a medal.” Considering he had left the sport because he had stopped enjoying it, how did it change?
The break — spending quality time with his parents as well as indulging in wildlife photography, one of his other passions — rejuvenated him. Ironically enough, what really rekindled his love for the sport was the range itself. Teaching the tricks of the trade to youngsters to be more precise. “When you spend time with the kids, you tend to revisit... when you teach them the basics, you yourself tend to relearn (aspects of the sport). “Training with the kids... you have a different kind of motivation altogether..”
A lot of prominent athletes begin academies because they believe in one of sport’s oldest maxims. “Need to give back to the system.” A few of those grand plans fail to see the light of day. Narang’s Gun For Glory (GFG), it’s fair to say, is at the opposite spectrum. In the eight years of its existence, it has given wings to several aspiring shooters.
The 36-year-old, who looks after the affairs of GFG like how a mother would take of her newborn kid, says he has enjoyed wearing the hat of a mentor. Even though shooting has provided 14% of all the medals India has won at the Olympics, the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist says more can be done. “From a shooting perspective, I think 0.00001% of the population probably play the sport and we have four (Olympic) medals. Imagine if that number grows to 0.0001%... the wonders we would be able to create.”
This is, in a nutshell, the idea behind broad-basing GFG. The Chennai-born shooter wants to not only take the sport to the masses but wants to give them access to excellence and right guidance from an early age. “We started with the approach of giving excellence at the grassroot level.
“Why only think of excellence at the elite level? Why should you have the best methodology and the best equipment only for the elite? Technology has evolved, so why give somebody that technology later?”
It’s obvious that he shares an excellent rapport with the likes of Elavenil Valarivan and Shreya Agarwal, two of the best products from his stable. “We have been trying hard to sustain the academy,” he says. “Frankly speaking, we need to have 95% to 100% capacity to even break even. But when you have an Ela or a Shreya or a Mahima (Agrawal) or a Dhanush (Srikanth), the struggle feels worthwhile.”
Being in such an environment has brought the love back. When the obvious question — why are you willingly putting yourself back to the grind of competitive shooting? — is asked, he smiles. “Good question. The youngsters motivate me. When I told myself, why don’t I try again, I was shooting the same when I had left the sport. That kind of gave me a different perspective. I’m trying to prove a point to myself and nobody else.” What is that ‘point’ he refers to? That he is still good enough but winning an Olympic medal is not the end goal. “That’s not the goal per se. It’s just that I would like to see if I am good enough.”
There is a story from when Apurvi Chandela was a promising shooter. When she couldn’t afford to buy the necessary paraphernalia, Narang would lend his stuff to Chandela. While Chandela, who earned India an Olympic quota last year is an obvious example, he has regularly done this throughout his career. The idea behind an academy had formed then. “I was always lending my equipment out. The academy only came in for a structured way of doing this. Not just equipment but training as well.”
Will it fall in place for Narang at the upcoming trials for Asian Championships? “Hope so,” he smiles.
There is that unmistakable glint in his eyes again.
Gun for Glory
Narang and Pawan Singh — joint secretary General, NRAI ISSF Judges Committee — started the initiative in 2011 to blood young talent and give th em the platform to grow.
Grassroots level initiatives
They identify talent, provide state of the art facilities.
Promising talents are offered 100 per cent funding.
Elite development initiatives
Provide 100 per cent scholarship programme.
Development in Technical, Physical & Mental aspects.
Training imparted by High Performance International coaches.