The echo of Jana Gana Mana at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing. The picture of the tri-colour being unfurled. Abhinav Bindra standing tall with the golden medal around his neck. The moment which inspired hundreds of budding shooters in the country counted among its lot one young girl from Jaipur – Apurvi Chandela. As history was being written in Indian sports annals, a young starry-eyed Apurvi Chandela sat watching on TV the event that set down her chosen path.
Hailing from Jaipur, the Chandela family girl grew up liking Didier Drogba’s wonderful strikes for Chelsea and the Indian cricket team. Her love affair with sports started much before her sudden and unexpected tryst with shooting. She even trained herself to be a sports journalist – a path taken by many a sports lover.
But it all changed within a matter of hours, On August 11, 2008; arguably the biggest moment in India's otherwise bleak Olympic history changed the course of Apurvi’s career from a sports journalist to a rifle shooter.
“It’s totally random. I liked watching sports a lot. But since I hadn’t played any seriously, I thought the next best thing would be to become a sports journalist. But seeing Bindra win the gold, I thought why not give it a shot?,” Apurvi told the Indian Express.
As the story goes, her father took her to the local shooting range in Jaipur and Apurvi shot a perfect 10 from her first shot. The rest as they say is history.
Women’s 10m Air Rifle has a rich legacy in Indian shooting with great shooters like Anjali Bhagwat and Suma Shirur flying the country’s flag high at International events. Following in the footsteps of these greats, Apurvi also found her pet event between those 10 metres.
Within four years of that initial tryst with shooting, Apurvi won the Gold medal in the Senior National Championship in 2012. Only 19 at the time and in her first year in the senior circuit, the Jaipur lass defeated Pooja Ghatkar of Maharashtra by 0.2 points to claim the Gold.
She soon became part of the Indian team for the International tournaments. However, a medal in the International arena evaded her for some time until 2014 – she started the year by clinching a Gold and Bronze medal at the 35th Intershoot competition in the Netherlands in March 2014.
The lows followed her soon though after she missed the cut for the World Championships before the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
In an interview to the Indian Express, Apurvi shared her experiences during that low phase in her career after she missed out on the World Championships. It was a period, which drained Apurvi mentally and physically – adding to the mental stress was a ligament tear in the ankle. She admittedly even cried daily, wondering whether her International career had ended. Her mother, her constant companion at all tournaments, gave her the strength to fight the lows. “But my mother told me to look ahead to the CWG,” she recalled.
And she did. In front of her friends and family, the Chandela family girl shot a score of 206.7 in the final to clinch her first Gold for the country. Something changed in her after the Commonwealth Games.
The introvert, who was considered only as a potential shooter in the Indian shooting circles, shredded the 'potential' tag last year by adding medal after medal to her tally. She started the year slowly with a bronze at the 35th National Games in Kerala after losing the shoot-off with Ayonika Paul.
As April arrived, she became the first woman shooter and only the second Indian shooter to qualify for the Rio Olympics after securing a podium finish at the ISSF World Cup in Changwon, South Korea. In a tense final, Apurvi kept her cool and the rifle steady to shoot a score of 185.6 to clinch the Bronze. She bettered her performance with a place in the ISSF World Cup Final in Munich, Germany to finish second in the podium – she came agonisingly close to winning the yellow metal only to lose by 0.6 points. Before the year end, Apurvi had added another medal to her tally by winning Gold at the National Shooting Championship.
Within days to the New Year and a day after her Birthday, Apurvi smashed the existing World record to win the Gold at the Swedish Cup Grand Prix. In an exhibition of her talent, the Indian shot 211.2 in the final to surpass the feat of Chinese Olympic gold medallist Yi Siling, who had held the record from 211.Within a day, she again grabbed headlines again with another gold and a ‘Best Shooter’ award.
Accompanied by the Walther rifle and ‘Waving Flag’ song, the shooter from Jaipur has become India’s biggest prospect of a medal in women’s shooting at the Rio Olympics 2016. With just eight months remaining for the World’s foremost sporting event, the hopes and aspirations of countless Indian fans rests on the shoulders of this ‘Girl with the Golden trigger’.