Ayushi Podder may not be in contention for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, but she is not sitting back during the lockdown, rather preparing for other events in the future. SportsCafe caught up with the shooter, during which she narrated how she wants to break prevalent stereotypes in Indian shooting.
Pursuing a sport like Shooting isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And while operating from a place which does not possess a tryst with the discipline, the situation doesn’t get better. But that was the least of Ayushi Podder’s concern when she was packing her rifles, stocking them in washroom shower cubicles to keep them uncontaminated by water, when the ‘Amphan’ cyclone struck their apartment in Baidyabati, in the outskirts of Kolkata. Their ‘new’ abode remains largely uninhabited, with Ayushi, along with his parents flocking elsewhere in search of a competitive environment and striving for a better future in the sport. Quite obviously they never got time to furnish the flat and install cabinets to keep the equipment, neither were they expecting a cyclone so strong.
“Most of the time in our flat where we stay, it wasn’t a new place and it was not furnished well from the beginning, because all of us were mainly out of station for my training and matches. For most of the year we are outside, so we never get a chance to furnish the flat and so there’s no proper cabinet for keeping rifles and ammunition. So, when the ‘Amphan’ cyclone hit, even in the fourth floor, due to heavy rain the eater came inside, and due to which I had to store the ammunition and rifles in the washrooms’ shower cubicles so that the water doesn’t tamper them,” said Ayushi Podder, during an exclusive interview with SportsCafe.
While that was a calamity unexpected, it’s an occurrence during the time of a pandemic meant it was double-trouble. For a city that does not offer too much for its long-distance shooters, availing top-notch facilities becomes a priority, which has her spend considerable time in Pune or Delhi. But, having former Shooter Pankaj Podder as a father and coach did help her somewhat in a Covid-19 affected world, with training facilities not functioning as usual. Inputs from her father, along with dry training was the only way out to keep herself associated with the sport. She’s not frustrated, neither is she complaining. But trying her level best to make the most out of the resources at her disposal - that includes a make-shift range at home.
“We are not being able to go to the practice range and conduct training, but have continued to shoot at home. The everyday practice that we usually do is not possible now –like when all the shooters come together in Delhi or Pune and train together. The competitive nature is lacking but I’m still happy for being able to do the dry practice. It’s been a long time since we have trained at a range and took part in any competition. We can hope for the best. We cannot just get frustrated always, just thinking about that – we can’t do it, we can’t do it,” added the junior India no. 1 in the 50m rifle 3 positions event.
“It’s a huge problem for shooters in India. Even if some of us have make-shift ranges at their disposal and some are able to go to the ranges to practice, we are not being able to train properly. Like most of the time, we have to do dry practice as we cannot import ammunition from Germany or England, this is the main issue. So, we have to focus on dry training and conserve our ammunition so we can use it in the upcoming months.”
One of the top-ranked shooters in India, Ayushi is one of the few to take feature in three events, an all-rounder to be precise, with her competing in the 10m Air Rifle, 50m Prone and 50m 3 Position events. But, it wasn’t exactly how she started her career, with the teenager introduced to the 50m event back in 2013 and the 10m a year later. While apparently it might look strenuous to juggle with multiple events, Ayushi embraced the challenge with wide arms, even though her father was concerned about the prospect and possible backlashes that might follow. Soon, the 50m 3 position was a part of her training regime as advised by her national coaches. She is currently the second-ranked shooter in India in the 50m rifle 3 positions event.
“I started with 50m prone in 2013 and then introduced to 10m in 2014 and got into the team for the 50m prone event in 2016 and then after that I was continuing with the two simultaneously and it was going fine, but suddenly my national coaches around 2017 advised me to start 50m 3 position events. So, that time, it was really challenging because keeping focus on three events rather than two is quite tough,” re-collected Ayushi.
“That time, my dad asked whether I am prepared for the three events, if not, we would have only concentrated on one event and started three later. I was already in my juniors back then, so I was into the 50m 3 position event and then continued with it in my seniors, rather than taking it up later in my career. So, I was determined to take up the challenge and concentrate on three events together.”
Breaking the stereotypes needs courage, bravery - and with the stringent norm to follow it by books in our country, questions will come popping from all quarters if someone deviates from the tried and tested path. Ayushi’s case was not an exception, with many trying to lure her into taking up a single discipline to achieve success in short notice, but she was adamant and never swayed from her stand. Walking in the footsteps of her idols, Ayushi is determined to become an all-rounder, simultaneously putting an end to the myth which has been doing rounds for so long. She’s made a point to squeeze time for all the three events in her daily routine - all at the age of 19!
“Many have advised me to focus on one event, by doing which I will be able to achieve success much before in my career, but I believe I want to be an all-round shooter. There are many of such types around the globe including my idol Ivana Maximo, even we have Gagan Narang from India, even they have succeeded in three events at the same time,” added the Asian Shooting Championship medallist.
“I just want to break this myth that one can’t continue three together, even though it was difficult in between for me to manage timings for the three. But still, I was very focused on my regime, in the morning, I used to train for the 50m because it has to be practiced in daylight, so I practiced for the event in the morning and kept time for the 10m event in the evening. Even then I used to get tired, but now I feel I made the right decision to continue with the three events simultaneously.”
The Shooting contingent for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics should have been announced by now, but the pandemic situation has slowed down the entire process. Even though 15 shooters have already booked a ticket to Japan next year, Ayushi still has an outright chance to make a cut if an extra berth is awarded, with two World Cups scheduled in the build-up to the Games. But she is not losing sleep over her qualification, rather keeping herself prepared to give the best shot when normalcy prevails. Missing out in the mega-event won’t dent her confidence. With the 2022 Commonwealth Games, 2022 Asian Games and the 2024 Paris Olympics in sight - there are medals on offer thick and fast.