Rahi Sarnobat knows what it is to perform under the unprecedented spotlight that comes with the Olympics. The 30-year-old is just one of four shooters from the highly-rated, 15-member Indian shooting contingent at Tokyo to have competed at the Games before. She also knows how it feels to be the underdog. Her Asian Games gold came at a time when there were few expectations from her.
Indeed, the shooter has lived the whole gamut of success, failure, injury and comeback in an athlete’s career.
Yet, in a strikingly young and supremely talented Indian shooting squad, Sarnobat has stayed under the radar and quietly gone about her business ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. But based on form and track record, the 30-year-old sports pistol shooter is one of the stronger individual medal contenders for India at the Tokyo Olympics.
In the last international competition before the Olympics, the ISSF World Cup at Osijek, she won the 25m sports pistol in a loaded, world-class field. Her third World Cup gold – with the first coming back in 2013 – was India’s only at the event, an anomaly for the decorated Indian team.
Sarnobat World Cup medals since 2018
|Gold||2019 Munich||25 meter pistol|
|Gold||2021 Delhi||Women's 25 m pistol team|
|Gold||2021 Osijek||25 meter pistol|
|Silver||2021 Delhi||25 meter pistol|
|Bronze||2021 Osijek||Women's 10 m pistol team|
It was her second World Cup medal this year, having won silver at Delhi in March. She is one of only two Indian shooters to win individual medals at both World Cups this year, the other being the firm favourite in 10m air pistol, Saurabh Chaudhary. While she may not the teenager’s unbelievable consistency in qualifications, she has another attribute perhaps more suited to the Games – the ability to raise her level when needed.
The Indian team’s performance in Croatia can largely be attributed to the pre-Olympics peak-management, especially important given the pandemic-forced break in 2020. But Sarnobat seemed on a different level right from qualifying with her personal best of 591/600 followed by 39/50, including five perfect series, in the final. She won by a huge eight-point lead ahead of the silver medallist, but it is the qualification score that inspired real confidence.
It’s unrealistic to read much into one performance, but this felt like an important marker for her, and Indian shooting’s, Olympic expectation. When Sarobnat makes the final, she is almost always a medal contender.
Unlike many others, shooting is a sport virtually played against yourself. It is the most unpredictable event at the Olympics. This uncertain nature of the sport is further amplified in women’s 25m sport pistol, which requires a lot more patience and consistency with two different modes of qualification (precision and speed) spread across two different days. A shooter needs to be both consistent across two stages but also has the chance to pick up after a bad round.
In a way, this dichotomy suits Sarnobat’s game well.
Heading into Tokyo, it is not just her form that gives Sarnobat the edge; her terrific technical acumen is now backed by a steely belief and experience.
At the 2012 London Olympics, as a 21-year-old, the occasion got to her. She couldn’t qualify for the Rio Games because of a debilitating injury that left her unable to pick up a gun. But her comeback, right from the Asian Games and through this Olympic cycle, has been very well balanced. She lost close matches but has also won five World Cup medals since, with her 2019 Munich performance sealing her second Olympic spot.
In her last interaction with the media before leaving India, the ever-articulate Sarnobat was refreshingly honest answering whatever questions there were, adding she wouldn’t be available after. She spoke about everything, from preferring to work alone and personally needing pressure to perform to even the unusual pandemic-induced things she has to carry while travelling around the world. Her thoughts on the 2012 Olympic experience, where the then 21-year-old finished 19th, show how much she has grown.
“The biggest lesson I got in London 2012 was that we as athletes are much more than what we think ourselves to be... I got overwhelmed in London and I was very satisfied just being there. But later, I felt that this was not unachievable, and it was absolutely in my hand, it was just my thought process,” the 30-year-old Sarnobat told journalists in an interaction arranged by the Sports Authority of India. “I will have a different perspective in Tokyo.”
The perspective will be a key differentiator in a squad filled with talent and primed with expectation. And it will be perspective from a decade of diverse experiences – from being a Commonwealth Games champion to being the first Indian pistol shooter to win World Cup gold to almost ending her career with an injury.
No Indian woman shooter has won an Olympic medal before. Before 2018, no Indian woman shooter had won a gold medal at the Asian Games either. But in what was a career-defining performance she stormed to the top of the podium and maintained that optimal level for the next three years, through ups, downs and sport shutdowns.
If the level-headed shooter can maintain a similar balance for two days, Tokyo could well witness another Indian shooting first from Sarnobat.
Respond to this article with a post
Share your perspective on this article with a post on ScrollStack, and send it to your followers.