NEW DELHI: An Olympic quota secured, Mairaj Ahmad Khan is on a well-deserved small break. But he cannot be kept away from the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range. He gives pointers to newbies and discusses tricks of the trade. But as soon as he hears the word Olympics, his expression changes. He points to a small hut beside the shotgun range and on the window, three words are written in chalk: Tokyo Olympics Gold.
“I wrote this after returning from the last Olympics. Whenever I shoot, I see the words. They motivate me and remind me of my target. I don’t want to be known as just an Olympian. I want to become an Olympic champion,” the skeet shooter says.The 44-year-old missed out on the finals in Rio after losing in a shoot-off. The pain has not fully disappeared but a newfound determination has taken its place. “It was a 15-hour flight back and I cried the whole time. I cannot go through that phase again. It took me almost two years to get over that. This time, I have practised like I’m in the Olympics and I’m leaving no stone unturned.”
Mairaj secured the quota following a gold-winning display at the Asian Championships last week along with his student Angad Vir Singh Bajwa. The experienced campaigner admits that with Angad around, it helps him in his preparations. “Last time, I was alone and the training can sometimes get monotonous. With both of us around, we can push each other, like we did in the Asian Championships.”
The shooting calendar is choc-a-bloc and it can get hectic for the athletes. The shotgun nationals have started and will be followed by trials and then the World Cup season will start afresh. The former Commonwealth Championships gold winner is looking ahead.“Last time I skipped two World Cups. I plan to do the same. There is no point in reaching Tokyo with an exhausted mind. Good training and proper rest is the best way to prepare. Competing where required is important in an Olympic year.”
While Indian rifle and pistol shooters have captured the imagination of the nation with their consistent showing over the years, shotgun specialists have not really made an impact. “The others keep winning in international competitions. Their bench strength is strong. We are not that well equipped. But if we win at the biggest stage, we will receive more help and will be seen in better light.”
Delhi’s deteriorating air quality is a concern. For skeet shooters, the smog not only hampers vision but since it is an outdoor sport unlike the pistol and rifle events, it can affect health as well. Mairaj jokes that Indians are tough nuts to crack.“Sometimes the moving target becomes hard to spot in the smog. My eyes and throat have been burning since landing in Delhi. But you have to keep at it and these have become normal for shooters in Delhi.”