London: Humble isn’t usually the first word that comes to mind when describing a star athlete, but it’s the one used most often by those who have been around Indian shooter Gagan Narang.
Shooting is what Narang does, but it’s not who he is. The MBA graduate has, however, made shooting his business and after years of effort and dedication, Narang won India’s first medal, a bronze in the 10m air rifle category, at the London Games.
It is the one prize that Narang will covet the most even though he has won international medals by the bagfuls — the Asian gold, Commonwealth gold, and the World Championships. While his friends and opponents testify to his talent and unwavering work ethic, the qualities that stand out most in him are his character and seriousness of purpose.
Quite naturally, everybody loves a winner and the Indian sporting community were quick to felicitate the tall, shy man from Hyderabad who took up the sport as a pastime but is now among the best in the world in his category.
Narang never forgets his mistakes. He turns them into platforms which he steps on to achieve success. The pain of missing out on a chance to win a medal at Beijing, where teammate Abhinav Bindra excelled, after he finished eighth and lost out on a countback kept haunting Narang. But the Olympic Games are held once in every four years. Time can pass slowly when one sits and mopes and gropes about the opportunities that slipped away. So, Narang decided to make the most of the international chances that came his way. The decision paid dividends. International recognition was quick to follow and the outings also proved to be an apt dress rehearsal for the London Games.
Narang’s performance yesterday was not without its share of drama. He went through phases of sheer shooting ecstasy, when he had a sight of the gold medal, coupled with moments of agony when chances of a medal seemed all but lost. Shooting is a very fine sport in that the difference between first and fourth place can be determined by just one shot at the target. Loosely translated, this means that there is very little margin for error.
Each time Narang faltered, he came back with more verve and audacity. A shooter’s vision is insular. It is limited to the sights of his rifle and the bulls’ eye on the target. What happens between those moments is limited to stopping the process of breathing and squeezing the trigger simultaneously. Yesterday, a nation of over one billion people held their breath as Narang stared down the barrel of his rifle. He had a lead of just three decimal points, separating him from bronze and fourth place, and prepared to caress the trigger within the 75-second window he had to make his last shot. The trigger clicked and the scoreboard registered a 10.7. In response to that effort, China’s Wang Tao notched a 10.4.
The rest, as they say, is history.