The Hit List
A guide to the best in the world of women’s trap shooting, and what Chowdhary is going to be up against at the Olympics
vention when he encouraged her to take up shooting in Delhi, where she was pursuing a bachelors degree at Jesus and Mary College. “Much to my mother’s ire, I was bunking classes to go shoot at the Tughlakabad range with dad, and I could pick the kind of shooter I wanted to be,” she says. Initially she had no gun to practice with and shot with borrowed cartridges, because of their astronomical cost. Like most Indian children who dare to go off the beaten path of exams, 90 per cent cut- offs and college degrees, Chowdhary too struggled with her family when she chose the shooting range over MBA classes. “My father was my motivation through it all, and would whisk me away for practice. He fought for me till I was able turn my family’s opinion, and now, they’re often more clued in to the sport than I am,” she laughs. Sushil, an ace skeet shooter himself, accompanies his daughter to tournaments around the world. “He keeps my spirits up even when I shoot badly. You need that kind of support as a sportsperson,” she adds.
Chowdhary shot double trap till 2004, and was part of Indian shooting team, when the International Body for Shooting scrapped double trap for women as an Olympic
You can only excel in something you are passionate about. And that passion knows no barriers.
sport. It came as a blow to her, especially since she’d helped India win its first bronze in the sport at the Asian Clay Championships in 2003. “All the time I had invested came to naught since it was no longer an Olympic event. I wanted to get somewhere with my shooting and I was determined to compete at the ultimate global stage,” she claims. In 2005 Chowdhary made the bold move of shifting from double trap to trap, a much faster sport. “It involves the fear of the unknown,” says the shooter, “because one has no idea about the trajectory of the clay pigeon in single trap. All you know is that it’s going to come out at an unknown trajectory and at high speed, and you just have to take your aim.”
Currently training with her coach Marcello Dradi in Italy, Chowdhary spends four to five hours at the range, followed by a gym routine. “I train five days a week and work on flexibility, muscle relaxation and visualisation techniques with my coach. In trap shooting, the deciding factor is who holds it together on the day of the competition,” she says. She began training without any professional help and subsequently picked up some bad habits, which took a while to get rid of. “Unfortunately I lost out on some time initially, but training with Dradi has boosted my confidence,” she says.
Shooting trap is a grueling test of nerves, and the margin for error, vey low. Last July, Chowdhary experienced this first hand when she lost out on winning an entry to the Olympics in her first attempt at the World Cup in Maribor, Slovenia. “I shot a personal best score of 72/ 75 but did badly in the qualifying shoot- off that followed.” She got her next shot at the World Championships at Belgrade, where Chowdhary found herself in a similar situation, having scored another impressive 72. This time however, she was prepared for the shoot- off, and finished fourth to clinch an Olympic berth. “I’m disappointed that I missed the gold, but thrilled that India finally had a place in the women’s trap event,” she says. Ask her about success and failure and she’s ready with a weathered response, and an insight that belies her young years. “Sport humbles you to an extent where you learn to take both success and failure in your stride. Being complacent isn’t an option,” she says. Ask her about sponsorship and she’s a little more direct. ‘ When I started, sponsorship for Olympic sports was miniscule. No one went all out for us the way Sahara supported cricket.” Chowdhary found ready backers in the form of the Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), a not- for- profit organisation, founded by former badminton champion Prakash Padukone and billiards wiz Geet Sethi, that sponsors Olympians. She wishes, however, that such help would be uniform and widespread in its impact. “As sportspeople, we lack the kind of admiration and respect that the Americans and Chinese get. It’s a powerful feeling to know that an entire nation is backing you. Sadly, that sentiment is yet to build in India for anything apart from cricket,” says Chowdhary.
My father fought for me till the rest of my family came around to my chosen path.
While she misses the conventional forms of support that cricket gets, the pockets of encouragement that have sprung up are confident that she’s going to make an impact. “Her mental strength is her key asset,” says Sethi. Viren Rasquinha, former captain of the Indian hockey team and CEO of OGQ, adds, “Her technique, temperament and self belief can help overcome the pressure. Her form had dipped a bit but in the last three months of training, her scores have been excellent.” The swelling number of Indian women shooters is a matter of great pride for Chowdhary. “Women need to see sport as an accessible, professional career. I would be glad if my success can spur others to try,” she says. An Olympic medal would surely do the trick. Now if only we could get over the IPL.
Daddy’s Girl: Chowdhary with father Sushil