Shooting has so far been the most successful sport for India at the 2018 Asian Games with the squad winning nine medals – two gold, four silver and three bronze.

Apart from the final two days, India won a medal daily and missed the final in only five events, finishing third on the medals tally. China topped the tally with eight gold (15 total) and South Korea was second three (12).

But the highlights of the campaign were delivered by 16-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary winning gold in 10m air pistol and Rahi Sarnobat becoming the first Indian woman to win an Asiad gold. Medals were expected from Commonwealth Games gold medallists Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala, but they could not deliver this time.

Compared to the previous Asian Games, there was significant improvement from India’s point of view despite the lack of team events. India had finished eighth in the overall shooting tally four years ago with nine medals with just one gold from Jitu Rai.

Anjali Bhagwat, one of India’s foremost rifle shooters, hailed India’s performance saying that balanced squad the depth of talent in the country. Bhagwat, who is the shooting expert for Sony Pictures Networks during Asian Games, also believed that the biggest change in Indian shooting was that in the mindset, where even at the national level, the competition is tough as everyone is aiming for nothing less than a win.

Indian shooting performance at the Asian games has been superb this time. Till the last Asian Games we had team events and most of our medals came from them. And most of the individual medals we had were in non-Olympic events. But this time there are no non-Olympic or team events at the Games, and the individual medals show that we have put in creditable performances.

We have a great combination of team, we have seniors like Heena shooting along with a newcomer like Manu. Manu shooting one point less than the world record in qualification, Abhishek Verma, who started just two years back, winning a medal really shows the talent we have in the country.

But more than that, the mindset has changed, which is why we are seeing this result. After winning many World Cup and World Championships, Abhinav’s gold medal and Olympic medals of all colours, the mindset of shooters has changed.

Earlier, we used to think about qualifying for the Olympics, get selected in the national team. But now, young kids think of winning medals. So mentally they are ready, that is the main difference we have now.

The shooters also have exposure abroad now. We are sending our junior and senior teams to all the international tournaments and they are getting the chance to shoot along with good shooters and have a high level of competition.

But the big difference is that our local field is so tough, they don’t have to go abroad for training. Manu, Rahi, Heena are shooting in the nationals, where they have a very cut-to-cut competition and that also increases the standard.

The success of teenage shooters wasn’t a surprise because they had all shot very well in the trials. They replaced a legend like Jitu Rai and [Om Praskash] Mitharval who had won a Commonwealth medal, a veteran like Prakash, and so on.

Being so young, they were not under as much pressure as the senior shooters because they have nothing to lose. They went there with the very idea of winning and the raw talent is the benefit they had this time.

But now the real journey starts, and I am quite sure and confident about their future performances because our senior shooters are playing the role of coaches. They have the practical experience which will help our juniors to get good guidance.

As for Manu not winning a medal, she is very talented and I believe she knows how to handle herself. This was just pressure taking a toll but then it happens... one bad day... it happens with senior and experienced shooters as well. She will grow and become more mature with these experiences. This is the time for her to learn and not to get demoralised or lose confidence. She just needs to have confidence in her talent and her practice and continue her work.

And we have so many chances coming up, the world championship where they will be Olympic quota places in offer, and then we will have the nationals a few months later and then there will be World Cups starting again next.

Yes, it was a bit of bad luck that the events [in which Indian were good at] are gone because those were Indian shooters’ dominant events. But we have to move on, if that is the decision of the ISSF then we have to concentrate on the other Olympic events where we have done well. Changes are a constant thing.

Another thing is that a shooter should not have only one master event. I used to do 3 position, prone and air rifle, so if one is gone I have two others to focus on. But there are few shooters for whom one event is their master event. If it is suddenly taken out of the Olympics, they have to pick another one and then work both technique wise on the new event and psychologically as well. They have to tell themselves that ‘I can do this, this is going to be my master event now.’ It takes time and is difficult for a shooter to change their event. But then you have to do it.

I was also very happy for Rahi, who became the first Indian woman to win gold. I have trained with her in Pune and I have seen her struggle – she suffered a lot over one, one-and a half year. She was India No 1 had won the World Cup and about to qualify for the Rio Olympics. But suddenly her personal coach passed away and then suffered an injury on her right arm which she holds her gun. It took time for her to recover from it, almost six to seven months. When you are in peak form, to be away from the competition for that long is a big mental torture, and as a shooter I can understand that.

She was very low but then she came out of. She took a very good decision to hire a foreign coach Munkhbayar Dorjsujen. She is very good, a seven-time Olympian and has won two medals. Rahi worked really hard after that physically, mentally, and technique-wise and after that she proved that has the mettle and that she is the queen of this event.

Now, it is time for the World Championship in Korea. But we have to take it easy and not put the burden of expectations on our shooters. Because this is just the start of the qualification round of Olympics. Even if we don’t get quotas, there will be more chances in the coming World Cups. If we get, then we have a good advantage of planning our strategies, competition schedule two years in advance. I am looking forward to good performances and not just a medal.

As told to Zenia D’cunha