On December 9, 17-year-old shooter Mehuli Ghosh won her first international medal, a gold in 10m air rifle youth event at the Asian Airgun Championship in Japan to qualify for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
Five days later on December 14, Ghosh won eight gold medals on a single day at the National Shooting Championship in Kerala, along with two bronze and four national records.
“[I] don’t remember any athlete take away so much from one event in Nationals during my 29 years shooting career,” was how her coach and Olympian Joydeep Karmakar summed up the performance.
The 17-year-old, who picked up the gun inspired by Sholay, CID and carnivals, has taken the Indian junior shooting world by storm and has been posting consistent scores from the last Nationals in Pune and an international medal was only a matter of time.
Yet, a first international gold, national records and a Youth Olympic quota place, all in a week’s span, can be overwhelming. And the cheerful teen admits that her first reaction to winning the gold in Japan was that of shock.
“When I finished my last shot, I was stunned for two seconds. I checked the monitor twice to see if I was seeing the right score, that I had won the gold, I couldn’t believe it,” she told The Field from Kerala.
But did she get used to the feeling after bagging eight more soon after?
“No, not at all. I am actually still not used to getting gold medals, there is a long way to go,” said Ghosh, who turned 17 a month ago.
Even before her superlative performance in Wako City, where she also shot her personal best 420.6, Ghosh had been slowly climbing up the ranks in Indian shooting.
At the 2016 National Shooting Championship in Pune, she had bagged two gold and seven silver medals, including one in the seniors. She finished seventh in a junior shooting tournament in Czech Republic in May, the only Indian to qualify for the 10m air rifle final. In between, there were constant near-perfect scores, with a 420+ score thrice in a span of two weeks. Although she was placed 17th in the Junior World Championship in Suhl, Germany in June, she more than bounced back from that setback and made 2017 a year to remember.
Of CID and carnival fairs
The story behind Ghosh’s initiation into the sport almost sounds like it’s from a sports movie.
“I always liked to play sport, I used to do karate and swimming earlier. I also loved watching gunfights on screen, like Sholay and such films, and then there is a TV serials called CID, which I used to watch every day. As a child, I used to go to fairs and there was a game where you have to shoot balloons with a gun, I loved doing that and I always won prizes at fairs,” she said recounting how she fell in love with the sport as a child.
“And then I came to know that this is also a sport so I gathered information from one of my friends, fellow shooter Ayushi Podder. After a while my parents said that if you are willing to follow the sport, then do it. When I started getting results, a lot of people told my parents that she is good and should go ahead. That was when I was 13 year old and I started shooting in earnest. I used to get daydreams about shooting and I started loving the sport so much, it is something I cannot live without,” she added.
But the girl from Baidyabati, a town 35 kilometres from Kolkata, had started feeling stagnated a few years ago and needed a mentor to help her transform the potential into performance. And joining the Joydeep Karmakar Shooting Academy was probably the turning point in Ghosh’s relatively young career.
Working with Joydeep Karmakar
“Before joining the academy, my performance was going down, I was losing all my hope. Then when I came to know that there is an academy and they are ready to help me only if I show them the determination. I thought to myself that I cannot leave shooting, I want my name to be associated with this sport for India and they are my last hope, so I have to do it, it was do-or-die for me,” she recalled.
That was around two years back. Her trial must have been very impressive because since then she has been the brightest protege of the JKSA and Karmakar does not charge a penny to mentor the budding talent. The teen from Baidyabati used to travels almost 70km using three different modes of transport daily and spending almost four hours on the road to be able to train in Kolkata. And the results are showing.
“When she came to the academy the first time, she was depressed with her results and had been seeing a counsellor as well,” recalled the veteran shooter who finished fourth in 50m Prone at the 2012 London Olympics. “But in the last two years, she has shown great mental strength and become much more confident and determined.”
Her mental resolve has been the biggest change in her and is her strongest weapon as well now. Karmakar believes that a large part of winning is in the head and has passed on that lesson to his student.
“I focus more on the mental aspect, on how to win in the mind. Ultimately everyone at this level can hold a gun and shoot. The technicalities are the same for everyone, otherwise they wouldn’t be here. It’s not about the rifle, it’s all in the head and that’s what I am teaching Mehuli as well,” he told The Field.
And Ghosh is a very keen learner. “If I say something is black and not white, she will also agree that it is black. She has complete trust and follows everything I tell her. I teach them all I can and I want them to learn everything and become so good is that they don’t need me anymore,” he added.
The teenager on her part is delighted to have the support of an athlete who has gone through the grind. “The academy supported me every moment. When my coach described the setbacks he had faced, I was motivated to do better. If they can do it, I can do it, I tell myself.”
With the right kind of guidance and her inherent passion for the sport, Ghosh has everything she needs to plot a bright future as India’s next shooting star.