Esha Singh added two more medals to her tally a day after this story was published. Overall, with one gold and three silver medals, Singh has won the most medals by any Indian so far.
Esha Singh was in danger of being the next shooter to be eliminated from her competition. She had 18 hits, level in fourth place with compatriot Manu Bhaker, with just five shooters left in the women’s 25m pistol final.
That is when the match referees intervened to sort out a technical problem with the electrical targets. It was an ill-timed intervention that lasted well over 10 minutes – an eternity for a precision sport where momentum is key. But Singh did not mind. It gave her a chance to regroup.
On her debut at the continental games, this was not her first medal incidentally. Just to make it to the final, Singh, along with Bhaker and Rhythm Sangwan had combined to win the gold medal in the women’s 25m pistol team event.
“It has sunk in a little bit,” Singh said to Scroll on Thursday, about the gravity of her achievement, a day after she picked up her first two Asian Games medals. “It feels like all the hard work paid off and I could execute everything the way I wanted, and how I wanted it to be.”
Singh had finished fifth in the qualification event, earning a spot in the final.
In the medal match though, she had a nervy start, shooting 2, 3, 5, 4, 1 and 3 in her first six series. That’s when the pause in play happened.
“For me that was an advantage because I managed to get some rest,” she said. “I’m glad I got that because my muscles got a little bit of relaxation. For others, maybe it was a disturbance. To me, I was very connected to myself, so I didn’t feel it.”
As the cameras panned on her, Singh spent most of the time staring towards the floor. She was deep in her own thoughts, calming her nerves to the point that she felt at ease. From the sidelines, she could hear her father shouting words of encouragement to her.
“’Stay in the zone, don’t get distracted,’” the Hyderabad native recalled the messages from her father, Sachin Singh, a former rally driver.
But the 18-year-old’s mind was clear. And she had faith in her freshly modified weapon.
She did not have the best campaign at the ISSF World Championships last month, despite a gold with Shiva Narwal in the 10m air pistol mixed team event. But she returned from that event in Baku, Azerbaijan ready to take a risk. She had felt some uneasiness with her weapon, leading her coach Ved Prakash to make a few technical changes.
“It was a risk to do that after the World Championships, with the Asian Games close by, but I’m glad I did it,” she said. “These were some technical changes to the weapon. Because of that the training was also better and I felt good while competing.”
Singh enjoyed those moments she spent on the podium after the individual event final, but it was only later did she realise the extraordinarily late surge she had pulled off to earn the medal.
“I didn’t realise I scored five [in three] series until my mother told me over the phone a few hours later,” she recalled. “I was just so involved in myself and the process. I didn’t know it was going so well. I got to know later when I saw the match.”
Training the mind
Her focus on Wednesday, during the 25m pistol event, was unbreakable. Just as it has been throughout the Asian Games. She claimed to have wanted to attend a few boxing matches, but has shied away from the temptation to keep her mind focused on her sport.
She will need to keep that same resolve again on Friday, when she competes in her favourite 10m air pistol event.
Singh had taken up the sport when she was nine. By the time she was 13, she had beaten Bhaker and veteran Heena Sidhu for the senior national title in the 10m air pistol event, in 2018.
The Asian Games medal is just another step in her development as a world class shooter.
But she feels she has found a mantra to help her going forward. Especially when it comes to high-pressure multi-sports events like the one in Hangzhou.
Before coming to the Asian Games, she trained her mind to keep all the noise aside.
“I was happy that I was going for the Asian Games, but in my head, I tried to keep it quiet and calm and treat it like just another match,” she said.
Now, she is set to compete in just another match, once again, on Friday, in Hangzhou.
The Asian Games is being broadcast on the Sony Sports Network and live streamed on Sony Liv
The Field’s Asian Games build-up series, where we focus on athletes who have played in the shadows, but may be ready to step into the limelight.