'Accidental' shooter Sarabjot on course to Paris Olympics

Pistol shooter within range to make cut for Games after consistent display in ongoing OST
Sarabjot Singh (left) shot 584 to top the OST T4 qualification stage in the men's 10m air pistol category on Saturday
Sarabjot Singh (left) shot 584 to top the OST T4 qualification stage in the men's 10m air pistol category on Saturday(Photo | NRAI)

BHOPAL: He calls himself an accidental shooter. If anything, Sarabjot Singh's life resembles that of blackjack, a game of chance. Shooting is no doubt a game of skills but until he started, it was not even part of his lexicon. The 22-year-old had no inkling about the sport until the Summer of 2016 when he was 16. His friends joined a Summer Camp in school and he was tempted to follow them.

Until then, Sarabjot was dabbling with football. In fact, sport was not a meaningful pursuit for him. "Some of my friends joined shooting and I wanted to join them," he told his daily after topping the Olympic Shooting Trial (T4 qualification round) at the MP Shooting Academy here on Saturday. With the day's outcome, he has virtually sealed a Paris berth in the men's 10m air pistol category.

Sarabjot's father, a farmer in a village (Dhin) near Ambala, did not agree with the son and naturally said no. But fortunately for Sarabjot, the school chairman encouraged him to join shooting. "That changed my life," he said.
"I am an accidental shooter," Sarabjot confessed. "I started to shoot in 2016 in school during a camp. My friends were shooting and I wanted to join them. But my father did not agree. Then the chairman of the school asked me to shoot. Then I won a silver medal in a district competition. After that, I started to take the sport seriously."

The next big task was finding a coach. It was not easy either. Sarabjot's uncle then spoke to him about coach Abhishek Rana, who is considered very good.  

"I went to Abhishek sir and I have been training with him for the last eight years. I won a bronze medal in the youth nationals. In 2019, I won my first international medal in the junior World Cup. In 2021, I graduated to seniors and the initial stages were not good... but here I am now."

Coming from a family of farmers, Sarabjot knows how to work on the field. Till February, he did not even own a car. "I used to commute on a bus or other modes of transport that was convenient for me," he said. Around 6.30 AM, his father used to drop him off at the bus stand and he used to commute for 45-50 minutes to reach the centre. He would spend the whole day there before returning in the evening.

"Sarabjot used to take a bus to the centre from Dhin and then take the bus back. He used to have home-cooked food and his mother used to pack lunch for him. Food is important for a sportsperson and that helped him do well," Abhishek said. Now he owns a car, thanks to the prize money he got from various sources.

Sarabjot, who earned the quota for the country last year, felt competition in India is much tougher. "It's tougher in India than abroad," he said. "Here you have to shoot somewhere above 580 and hope you win. But abroad, it is different — 570 or so is good. There is pressure in the trials and this is the case for every athlete. And most think about how to win a quota or top the table. However, my focus was to improve my technique. But I felt some pressure in the last series. It was not there the whole time but I think that was natural."

To calm the mind, he has a psychologist. "Shivam sir is there and I have been working with him for the last year or so," he said. That helps him to calm him down to recover mentally as well.

There is no one in the team that he looks up to. But outside, he talks about Abhinav Bindra quite reverentially. "He (Bindra) is the only one. I had met him during an event and what he said I liked," said Sarabjot. "Someone asked a question to him 'what is that zone in shooting?'. He said there is no such thing as a shooting zone or anything. Then I realised that in shooting, there was nothing called a zone. Earlier, I thought there was a 'shooting zone'!" he said, accompanied by a laugh.

The 22-year-old has a slew of support staff working with him too. He has a trainer to look after his fitness, a physio and a psychologist all provided by Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ). "Now, I will take some rest, then will go to the Munich World Cup and then go to France," he said.

The coach also shared a few words on his ward and their training rituals too. "Earlier, there used to be more tours but now we have changed a bit. We train in Ambala more. Our earlier routine was quite successful," he said. The coach also felt that whatever coaching he had been doing was in Ambala and that helped. "That's why we thought we would train there. Also, whenever he is at a national camp or competes abroad, I speak to him whenever he wants my advice. We discuss plans and carry on."

The coach has never accompanied the athlete anywhere abroad and even for Paris, he would abide by the decision taken by the National Rifle Association of India, the governing body of the sport in the country. But for both, the focus is the Olympics now.

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