NEW DELHI: Tuesday was a gloomy day, literally and otherwise. Indian shooters drew a blank and cut dejected figures, especially the pistol shooters who were trying to find out why things didn’t pan out the way they wanted at the ISSF World Cup. The coaches were also a disappointed lot. Given the familiar conditions and that the shooters had entered the stage with genuine optimism, it was an opportunity missed.
Former World No 1 Heena Sidhu was among them. Having finished 25th with 571 in the qualification round (the topper hit 582) of the women’s 10m air pistol event, she was downcast but trying to put up a brave face, looking to put things in perspective. “For around one-and-a-half months we had been thinking about this tournament. Most of us got emotionally involved thinking that the event being held at home, we have a great opportunity. It backfired for all. Barring two or three, most of us were below par.”
Manu Bhaker and Anuradha, the other Indian shooters in the event, did marginally better, finishing 14th and 22nd, respectively. The usually calm Manu was shaky in the qualifiers and never got going, scoring 573. Anuradha’s score was 571, but she was placed higher than Heena because of more perfect hits. Heena felt she was trying too hard and that was something which triggered her slide. “I was thinking how I can do better rather than accepting things as they were and follow a process,” she remarked.
One of the reliable shooters in the country, Heena had a fruitful 2018, winning gold (25m pistol) and silver (10m pistol) at the Commonwealth Games. She had also won bronze (10m air pistol) at the Asian Games. The Arjuna awardee has one medal missing in her trophy cabinet — an Olympic medal. Victory here could have taken her a step closer. But she knows the dream is not beyond her yet. “The Olympics is the biggest dream that drives us. The World Cup keeps coming and going. That is why there’s pressure. But I have to work on it.”
It’s not like she is unfamiliar with demanding situations. The 29-year-old had passed a do-or-die test at the same venue in 2016 to secure ticket for the Rio Olympics. Her coach and husband Ronak Pandit tried to explain how pressure hits athletes. “You can anticipate pressure, try and figure out how it might affect you. On a given day, you are expected to perform. But sometimes, it doesn’t happen. The margins are so fine,” the former CWG gold medallist noted.
Heena has also been in the limelight for the wrong reasons in the recent past, with the coaches voicing their displeasure over seniors going against their wish and missing out on training drills. The Ludhiana shooter has her reasons. “It’s been over a decade that I have been shooting. There are certain things that I’m accustomed to. I have found the recipe that works for me and I’m sticking with it. That’s why I train in Pune,” she explained.
She endorsed the idea of athletes following a disciplined life. However, she believes it depends on who it is being imposed on. Having made her way up through the junior ranks, she felt that for shooters like her, there should be considerations. “Everybody is going through a phase in their lives. I have done my hard work during my junior days. For juniors, I feel regular camps work as they keep them disciplined. For seniors who are already disciplined, too much of it will take the fun out of it.”
Given that she will be in action (mixed event) on Wednesday, Heena was determined not to lose sight. There are no quotas on offer, but a good showing on the final day could spur her ahead of the rest of the season, which is bound to test her mental strength. Same for Manu, who will also be in action.