What were you doing when you were 16 years old? Bunking classes, planning what to do with your first pay check from a summer job, headbanging to your favourite rock band’s music in all likelihood.
Breaking records and beating world champions isn’t on the agenda for most of us. It’s not the sole aim and objective for young boys and girls either, when they start out playing a sport. But even amongst them, there are those who shine and sparkle early enough for the world to know that they’ve got something that the rest of the kids don’t. Like Sachin Tendulkar did, like Viswanathan Anand did. We call them prodigies. And by winning an Asian Games gold medal with a Games Record, in what was his first ever senior international shooting competition, 16 year old Saurabh Chaudhary has taken a small but sure step to find himself in that category.
How else do you describe a performance where a debutant shoots better than a multiple Olympic champion to qualify for the finals of an event? And he doesn’t stop there. On his way to winning a stunning gold, he topples over a two-time world champion no less. These men are more than double his age, but Saurabh Chaudhary is least affected.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” the Meerut boy says after becoming only the fifth Indian shooter to win an Asiad gold. Randhir Singh was 32 when he won his Asian Games gold medal, Ronjan Sodhi was 30, Jitu Rai was 26. Only Jaspal Rana, who was 17 when he won gold at the 1994 Asiad in Hiroshima, comes close to Chaudhary’s achievement on Tuesday morning.
The nerves showed ever so slightly at the start of the final when he shot a couple of 9s. But a 10.6 right after saw him move up to second spot. As Chaudhry and Matsuda were the only two left in the competition, the Indian started with a superb 10.2, while the 42 year old Japanese shot a nightmarish 8.9 that almost sealed the deal. Chaudhry’s next shot was a 10.4, Matsuda’s a 10.3 and that was it!
About three years into the sport, the teenager honed his skills at Amit Sheoran’s academy in Benoli, more than 50 kms away from Meerut. When he gets time off from school and shooting, which is not very often, Chaudhry helps his father in farming.
The last year has been busy for him as a shooter. He qualified for the Youth Olympics with a gold medal and a junior world record, at the Kumar Surendra Singh Memorial Championship beat the seasoned Jitu Rai in the 10m Air Pistol event, and at the Junior World Championships won a bronze with the team and finished fourth in the individual event. This year, at the ISSF Junior World Cup, he won gold in the individual event event with a junior world record, and bagged the Mixed Team gold too.
A day after 19 year old Lakshay Sheoran made a mockery of a seasoned field in the Trap final to shoot silver, the medal colour for India got better, and the medallist younger. World over, across events, the scores in shooting have gone higher, and the shooters younger. India and the National Rifle Association of India are definitely following the trend. In some sense, it also puts things into perspective. Indian shooters had to return empty handed from the Rio Olympics because that was when the transition was happening in the sport. It would be safe to say that two years from now at the Tokyo Olympics, it’s going to be a different story.
Young Saurabh Chaudhary meanwhile has no time to rest or sit back and reflect on his achievement and the cash awards and job offers that have started pouring in already. The World Championships begin in Changwon next month, and that’s going to be his next target.