Very few people must have seen Shardul Vihan shoot before his silver medal in the double trap final at the Asian Games. At 15 years, he was the youngest in the field of six. Eventual gold medallist Hyunwoo Shin is 34, bronze winner Hamad Ali Al Marri is 42. The others in the field were 38, 33 and 27 years respectively. Almost double that of the Indian.
He was the first to shoot, as the qualification topper. The reigning Indian national champion shot a perfect 10/10 to start things off, and looked calm, composed. After every series, he stepped out and took a sip of water. Before starting his series, he took something out of his jacket pocket and held it in front of him, as if to gauge the conditions.
It was a set practice between shots and caught the eye of everyone watching. Abhinav Bindra tweeted that there is much to learn from the teen pre-shot routine. And there indeed is, because it is essentially a “technical trick”, to measure the height he has to position his shotgun at.
“In double trap, the first target is thrown at three meters and the second target is thrown at 3-and-half meters. The machine throw it at different angles, for example machine No 7 throws it five degrees left, machine no 9 is five degrees right. So when you are changing your station, the angle changes. He was using an empty cartridge to take a tentative idea of his gun placement to reduce the moment down to break the target. It is a technical parameter taught to the kids in double trap,” Vikram Singh Chopra, the chief coach of India’s junior shotgun national team, told Scroll.in.
“It gauges the height where he has to shoot the target and at what height in the trench where the ejection point is, so either you measure it with an empty cartridge or your finger or palms. These are couple of technical tricks that we use at the national camps,” he explained.
The methodic sip of water is a similar hack taught to the juniors in India.
After the shoots five shells, it is mandatory for all juniors to take a sip of water. What happens is that in excitement, the youngsters tend to breathe a little less so the oxygen levels in the body can go down, especially under. So if you drink water, you have to breathe. Even Lakshay [Sheroan, the silver-medallist in trap] did that,” Chopra said.
These were the small things that helped the disciplined teen achieve the big feat: The sip of water, the pre-shot cartridge routine, the relaxed body language, squared shoulder and steady arms, the systematic shots, the almost perfect hits.
Silver by a single point
After a superb 141 in qualification, he started with a perfect 10/10 score to stay on top with a lead of one over his nearest rival. In the next three series, he missed the one shot but maintained an otherwise tidy record to stay in the lead, tied with the veteran Korean, who looked animated next to the stoic Vihan, with his mouth open while shooting.
It was only after 40 shots that Vihan fell from the gold medal position, and then was in a moment of bother as he was tied second and could have dropped to the bronze medal position. But he held on for silver, missing the gold by only one point in the end. A single point, after a thrilling final fitting for what could be the last time double trap was at the Asiad for a while. The event already doesn’t figure in the Olympics anymore.
After the final, Vihan had a toothy grin on his face as he lifted his shotgun atop in celebration. The Meerut lad is not unaccustomed to the pose. Last year, at the age of 14, he had won four gold medals in a single day at the 61st National Shooting Championship – senior, junior individual and team event, getting the better of world number one Ankur Mittal.
This was just two years after starting shooting competitively as a 12-year-old in 2015. Before that, he had tried his hand at cricket and badminton as well. But in the three years that he has been competing, he has shown a single-minded dedication to the sport, backed by a very supportive family.
He used to travel daily from Meerut to come to Delhi for practice. “He would start at 4 or 5 in the morning to reach the camp at 7 AM. This is also the result of the brilliant hard work by his parents and his uncle who has been following him like a shadow, morning to evening. He makes sure he gets to the range, and waits for him, makes sure he is eating properly and training well,” Chopra informed.
He also has the advantage of a seasoned personal coach, Olympian and Asian Championship double gold medallist Anwer Sultan, who has travelled with him to Indonesia.
While such a strong support system is a huge advantage, Vihan’s success is ultimately down to his astounding work ethic.
Imagine being a 13-14 year old, waking up before dawn and travelling to Delhi to train in conditions that can get very unfriendly in an open-air range. Unlike pistol or rifle, shotgun is outdoors so the field of play changes every competition and the shooter has to deal with weather, fluctuations of light, sometimes even rain.
But then he is no ordinary school child. He is an Asian Games medallist, who has made his mark with his thorough routine, consistent scores at all levels and clearly extraordinary talent.