Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

If Verma can do it, so can you

Four years after he picked up the sport seriously, the Haryana lawyer will go to Tokyo as the world’s No.1 shooter

- Avishek Roy

NEW DELHI: Abhishek Verma’s story has that kind of cinematic spark, that underlying simmer of hope that says: if he can make it to the Olympics, so can you.

He picked up shooting on a whim at 25—it was a nice experience, so he continued to visit a range near his home in Hisar, Haryana to shoot a few rounds with friends on occasion. A couple of years down the line, after completing a degree in engineerin­g and another in law and on the verge of becoming a laywer, Verma was hit by a revelation—he really loved shooting, he was good at it, and he needed to give himself a chance to pursue it seriously. He quit everything else and made the sport— so full of teenagers and preteens vying hard to be the next big thing—his life.

Four years since that decision, Verma is headed for the Tokyo Olympics, where he will enter as the world’s No.1 ranked 10m air pistol shooter.

One part of that truly meteoric rise is of course innate talent. The other part is where it gets tricky, the part about a singular vision and the discipline to stick to it.

“People tell me that you just came from nowhere, got an Olympic quota and will compete in Tokyo Olympics, but nobody knows the hard work and effort that has gone behind it,” said Verma, who will be 32 in Tokyo.

In 2017, when the bespectacl­ed and bearded Verma began his mission to be a competitiv­e shooter, his decision confounded those close to him. “They would say if you have done engineerin­g for four years, law for three years, then how can you keep that aside and get into a sport?” Verma said. “They thought I was confused.”

Verma’s father Ashok, who is a judge at the Punjab & Haryana High Court made a pact with his son: “My father made it clear that if I was not able to break into the Indian team in a year then I would have to start the practice in court.”

Verma knew his scores, without any formal training, were already at the elite level, but the small gap that existed would have to be tackled in a systematic way. The first priority was to hunt for an academy and a good coach. On the suggestion of a friend, he gave a trial at the Eklavyaa Shooting Academy in Bhondsi, Gurugram and met coach Omendra Singh. They clicked immediatel­y.

Verma moved himself to a hostel accommodat­ion inside the range, went offline, and used his phone only to call home a couple of times a week. This was bootcamp stuff.

“It was just shooting,” Verma said. “I did nothing else in that 12 months. I was starting late so I knew I had to give everything.”

Such was his obsession that Verma did not even care about his diet. He lost 10kgs during that period.

“It was a small range with limited firing points and one had to reach early to book a slot. Anyone who had seen me in 2016, would not have recognised me in 2017,” Verma said. “I used to skip my breakfast, drink a glass of water and run to get a lane. I used to be the first one to go, open the range at 7am, clean it and start my practice.”

Things started falling in place. He won gold in a north zone event and qualified for the national trials. Then he was in the Indian team. Not even a full year had passed.

In another six months, he had shot down a bronze in his first internatio­nal tournament— the 2018 Asian Games.

“Failure was not in my mind. I was passionate and I was also getting to understand shooting,” Verma said. “Because I had an engineerin­g background, I think I picked up the technical aspects fast.”

The first time he was in the national camp, Verma said, he immediatel­y felt like it was “family”. Saurabh Chaudhary, a teenage shooting prodigy, became a close friend quickly. Both pistol shooters have been in sensationa­l form. At the 2018 Asian Games, Chaudhary won the gold. In 2019, both shooters won two ISSF World Cup gold medals each. Chaudhary was World No.1 in 2019 and Verma No.2. Now the position has reversed. In Tokyo, they will compete in individual and mixed team events—saurabh with Manu Bhaker and Verma with Yashwaswin­i Singh Deswal. “When I won Asian Games medal, I thought I had the calibre to win internatio­nal medals and when I got the quota in Beijing, I just thought about the Olympics. I was confident that I could do well in the Olympics,” Verma said.

“So many shooters who start late ask me what my mantra is. I tell them age doesn’t matter, hard work and discipline can take you anywhere.”

 ?? SANJEEV VERMA/HT PHOTO ?? Indian pistol shooter Abhishek Verma takes aim at the target.
SANJEEV VERMA/HT PHOTO Indian pistol shooter Abhishek Verma takes aim at the target.

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