Tejaswini Sawant was over the moon in 2010 when she bagged the World Championship gold in the 50m prone and was primed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.
But the weight of expectations pulled her down and things went into a downward spiral with responsibilities at home taking her attention away from the sport.
Before she knew it, the young brigade was challenging the established stars and that added pressure to the problem.
But the 37-year-old put all those frustrating moments behind her to become India’s oldest medallist so far in this edition of the Games. She won the 50m prone silver on Thursday and followed it up with the Rifle 3-position gold and a Games Record on Friday.
This was Sawant’s third gold in the Commonwealth Games over four editions but this would probably be the sweetest one. Her day job as an officer in Maharashtra’s sports department did not distract her. She kept her faith in coach Kuheli Gangulee, worked hard on the mental aspect of her preparation and then, turned things around when it mattered the most.
“My event was at the latter stages of the Games and I had to ensure that the pressure of my own expectations does not build up on me. So I kept myself away from any interaction even with my family members and just focused on my shooting,” said Sawant, who did not even start her phone to accept the wishes of her family members after the silver medal-winning performance.
This was probably the easier part. The more difficult part was to keep faith in her own abilities when things weren’t going her way. She even missed out on the Indian team spot in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games.
And getting over that took quite some time.
Getting back up again
“The break (which extended to a couple of months) pegged me back by almost six months and I missed out on the 2014 Commonwealth Games as most of the trials were in 2013. By that time, the young shooters had started performing and it meant that I started taking more pressure of performance,” Sawant told The Field from Gold Coast.
“I started performing well in 2015 and even bagged a medal in a tournament in Czech Republic in 2015. But then I got married and needed time to adjust to the new life and that took time,” said Sawant, the elder of the three siblings who had put her personal life on the backburner to take care of the family ever since her father Ravindra fell ill.
The former naval officer, who was instrumental in getting his daughter follow her shooting passion, passed away in 2010 a few months before she became the first Indian woman to be crowned world champion.
Things went downhill from that point on but the one thing that remained a constant during this period of ups and downs is Sawant’s relationship with her Kolkata-based coach Gangulee. During this period, the two worked hard on the two .22 events – Prone and 3-position – and the pupil insists she never felt the need to work with a foreign coach during the period.
“I don’t think that thought ever crossed my mind,” Sawant said when asked about whether she tried working with a foreign coach to resurrect her career.
Though she had worked with Laszlo Szucsak in her formative years, Sawant has stuck to working with Gangulee, who is still an active shooter, since then.
Gangulee was with her during the Commonwealth Shooting Championship in Brisbane last year as a team member and that helped the 48-year-old plan her ward’s pre-match preparation to the minutest details because of that.
“I was not there this week but I knew the range very well, the wind conditions other issues, and we planned accordingly. I am happy that Teju executed the plan 100 per cent today,” said Gangulee.
The 1994 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist insisted that the real challenge was to help Sawant handle the pressure of expectations.
“We definitely worked on the technical aspects of shooting. It is easy to handle the younger lot. But the senior players have been there and done that and they have to deal with the high expectation.
“So while going to the Commonwealth Games we discussed how she was not to think about getting top scores but just concentrate on the shooting part and I am happy that everything worked out perfectly,” she added.
Sawant knows that her own expectations would again increase after the medal-winning performance in Gold Coast and is keen to avoid similar issues as she focuses on qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Kuheli didi planned for this tournament and she will again give me a plan as I prepare for the Asian Games and then for the 2020 Olympics,” said Sawant, insisting she still enjoys the sport as she used to when she broke on the international scene in her early 20s.
“The only thing that has changed is that with added responsibility at home and office, I don’t get to train 8-9 hours like before. I now train for 4-5 hours but the intensity has improved and also my overall understanding.”
She and her coach hope that the improved understanding combined with the hard work could see her achieve far bigger goals in the near future.