Rahi Sarnobat, the ace shooter from Kolhapur, Maharashtra, created history on Wednesday by becoming the first Indian woman to win a shooting gold in the Asian Games after a nail-biting finish. She displayed nerves of steel in playing through two shoot-offs to secure the top spot in the 25m pistol event by a mere single shot.
While she rightfully basks in all the applause, it is imperative to chronicle the immense physical and mental struggles she underwent before her moment of glory.
This Gold has come after months of gruelling hard work.
I want to thank @OGQ_India for believing in me and supporting me through the years and my coach #munkhbayardorjsuren who has worked equally hard for my medal.#india #goldforindia ??????
— Rahi Sarnobat OLY (@SarnobatRahi) August 22, 2018
For the shooting prodigy, success came early with a gold medal in the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games in the 25m pistol event barely a year after she first picked up a pistol.
Two years later at the age of 19, she won the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in the 25m pistol pair event with Anisa Sayeed and a silver in the individual event.
Rahi picked up the sport at the tender age of 16, after being inspired by Tejaswini Sawant, the 50m rifle World and 2006 Commonwealth Games champion.
Her talent was evident from the very beginning, and even without a specialist coach, she acquired success in a very short span of time.
“I guess the lack of a specialist coach is actually helping the pistol shooters because they are learning on their own and making a bigger effort to win,” she said, speaking to India Today in 2010 before the Commonwealth Games.
Following her Commonwealth Games success, Rahi became the first Indian pistol shooter to win a gold medal at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup in Changwon, South Korea in 2013. This was followed by another gold medal in the 25m pistol shooting event at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and a bronze in the 25m pistol team event.
The following year, however, was when her struggles began. She was forced to take a year-long break due to a series of injuries on her back, shoulder and elbow.
Things didn’t go any better the following year when her elbow condition got worse leaving her unable to even pick up a gun. The suffering, both mental and physical, was immense.
Even though Rahi was eligible to contest in the 2016 Rio Olympics, she couldn’t because of her injury. Missing out on the Olympics was hard. Making matters worse, her coach, Anatolli Piddubni, who had played a critical role in her success following her first Commonwealth Games success, passed away in 2015.
You need ice-cold nerves in an event like pistol shooting and for an emotional Rahi, who was suffering from injury and mourning the loss of her coach, the road ahead looked very tough.
Despite all her troubles, she did not quit, and as reported in Scroll.in, with the help of noted physiotherapists, Anuja Dalvi Pandit and Niranjan Pandit, of the Mumbai-based LiveActive Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic, her fitness and subsequently, form, slowly returned.
However, her push for the gold medal in the Jakarta Asian Games received a real fillip last year when she hired Munkhbayar Dorjsuren, a seven-time Olympian, as her coach. Rahi wanted someone who knew what it took to excel at the highest level, and Dorjsuren fit the bill.
“We all train very hard at the range, but at the highest level, you need an attitude too. World champions and Olympic champions do things differently,” she told News 18 before travelling for the Asian Games this year.
Olympic Gold Quest, the sports non-profit run by former Indian hockey star Viren Rasquinha, helped Rahi hire the 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist.
What Dorjsuren did so effectively was to improve the mental side of things. This was particularly important considering the emotional strain she had endured in the past few years.
— Vikram Sathaye (@vikramsathaye) August 23, 2018
“I had to change her technique, and I also worked on her a lot on the mental aspect of the game. She was already a high-level shooter and needed some tweak in her game. It was a close final, but I had prepared her for the shoot-off,” Dorjsuren told the press in Jakarta.
Those preparations came in handy, when she held her nerve through those two shootouts. More than anything else, however, both shooters developed a really close bond. The tight embrace between the two after Rahi won the Asian Games gold yesterday truly exemplified it.
— Viren Rasquinha (@virenrasquinha) August 22, 2018
From the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon to the 2018 edition in Jakarta, Rahi’s journey has been tumultuous, but ultimately rewarding.
Her next stop? The Olympic Games in 2020.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)