By Ajai Masand
New Delhi, Aug 14 : Indian rifle shooter Sanjeev Rajput sure has left his contemporaries way behind! While the likes of Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang and Samaresh Jung, after achieving great success in the sport, have moved on, Rajput, 41, continues to aim for Olympic glory, knowing well that he still has a few more years of competitive spirit left in him to achieve his dream.
The disappointment in 2020 Tokyo has spurred him to aim for success in 2024 Paris and Rajput is hoping lady luck will shine on him two years from now, what with the shooter hailing from Yamuna Nagar, Haryana recently getting married and finding the motivation to “go for it” one more time with a brand new Walther rifle.
The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games gold medallist believes the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) has made life easy for sportspersons and cut those endless waits, which left athletes frustrated.
Q: Has the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme made life easy for athletes like you?
A: It certainly has made the life of athletes easy. Really easy, I would say. An athlete now has to forget about everything and just concentrate on preparation and competition. I remember before the 2012 London Olympics I had made a plan to train abroad for three months and sought NSDF (National Sports Development Fund).
But I kept waiting for 60 days for approval. With only 30 days left, I made a decision that I could not train in the hot and humid conditions of Delhi. I spent from my pocket to go abroad and train for the remaining 30 days. I could only train for 24-25 days, while the original plan was for 90 days.
The NSDF approval did come finally, but only after 60 days of training were lost! The current lot of athletes don’t face such issues, thanks to TOPS. An athlete selected for TOPS now had to just give his plan that he wants to train at such and such location, and explain why he wants to train at that particular place and the rest is taken care of.
Q: How quick is the process to get the TOPS approval for training, equipment, etc?
A: Every fortnight, I suppose they (Sports Authority of India) have a meeting where all pending TOPS files are approved. It’s a really fast process. Come to think of it, I sweat thinking about the fact that it took 60 long days in 2011/12 for my plan to get approved under NSDF. And all that effort was of no use as I missed more than two months of training.
Q: As one who has been remarkably consistent in his shooting, winning medals in almost all major international competitions barring the Olympics, what are your plans for 2024 Paris?
A: I have made a lot of changes in my shooting kit. I have changed to a new rifle brand — Walther. It is a major change and I am trying to adjust to the weapon. I suppose the team silver in men’s rifle 3-positions at the World Cup in Changwon, Korea recently is an indication that I have adjusted to the new rifle quite well.
Q: At 41 years of age, do you think the qualification road to Paris 2024 has become tough?
A: I don’t think so. I have already started the process to qualify for Paris. The first step was to ensure I had a weapon which was reliable and I procured that.
I have started training with the new weapon from July 1 onwards. Having done more than a month with the new rifle, I feel confident. Hopefully, in the coming 5-6 tournaments and selection trials I’ll gain more accuracy. I hope to be ready for the World Championships (an Olympic qualification tournament) next month.
Q: After the disappointment of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where none of the 15 qualified shooters could win a medal, what are your expectations ahead of 2024 Paris?
A: Well, the standard of Indian shooting is very high now and the chance of winning more quotas this time around is also very high. So by the time the Asian Championships, which signal the end of the Olympic qualification cycle, arrive (in 2024) we should have more Olympic quota places than the 15 we had before Tokyo 2020.