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19-year old Elavenil Valarivan is all set to make her senior World Cup debut at the upcoming ISSF Shooting World Cup in the nation's capital. And the silver medalist at the 2018 junior world championship in the 10m Air Rifle event could not have asked for a better situation. The World Cup in Delhi is an Olympic qualifying event where Indian shooters will be vying for quota spots at the Tokyo 2020 Games. However, Elavenil's event will see absolutely no pressure when it comes to qualifying for the Olympics given that India can already boast of two, solid quota spots in the event. Now, all the teenager has to do is collect her thoughts and shoot like she never has before- hopefully, making as big an impact in the senior circuit as she has in the juniors. "I am approaching this tournament the same way I approach all tournaments- without any added pressure," Elavenil tells The Bridge after a round of training one morning in Delhi. "As a sport, shooting depends on how calmly you can face matters when in high-pressure situations. I know for a fact that I have been doing well recently- I just want to keep up that momentum."
Shooting: A lonely sportAnd that, in a sense, explains the crux of shooting sport. Stoicism matters. The ability to keep a cool head and a steady hand can either make or break your performance. And when it comes to shooting, each and every person stands alone. Elavenil recognises this. Being a part of an elite group of youngsters who have taken the senior circuit by storm in the recent past, she understands the benefits and limitations of youth that this age group brings. The ongoing preparatory camp in Delhi for the Indian shooting contingent ahead of the World Cup is one meant to cater to the needs of both seniors and juniors. "There is a lot of difference, I find, between how juniors train and how seniors train," she explains. "Usually, when it is the junior camp- we all talk amongst each other and have good times. We share stories, tips and help out each other." "But in the senior camp, each and everybody is just in their own zone- they never come out of that zone." "It's not like they do not talk to us," she adds "It's mostly all about training. They keep to themselves- not disturbing others and not allowing anyone else to distract them. We are preparing for such a big podium. Even the slightest distraction can be costly. It's a peaceful environment here- no clashes between shooters, the status quo maintained." "Once we are at the lane, at the end of the day, we are all competitors," Elavenil finishes before moving the conversation to an overview of her personal training. Image: Indian Express "I am just training good and all I really want is to have a good approach to whatever I am doing," she adds. "The gap between my performance in training and my performance in a match is something I always try to bridge." "Right now, I am just working on getting a smooth flow of the trigger so that I shoot exactly where I want to," she reveals. "Even the timing is something that needs to fine-tune with practice- the question of when to shoot. You can never afford to be too quick or too slow."
The Olympic dreamAs a sport, Shooting has always been considered one of the more stable sources of Olympic medals. Out of 28 medals that India have bagged in the history of the Games, 4 have been courtesy shooting. Additionally, it is the discipline where the country produced its first and, till now only, individual gold medalist. So, it comes as little surprise that the foundations for shooting sport in India seem to be stable enough to produce continental and world level champions on a regular basis- irrespective of age. If we are to talk about the last few years alone- a slew of teenagers like Mehuli Ghosh, Anish Bhanwala, Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary, Hriday Hazarika and, of course, Elavenil herself. The challenge before them is no longer being the best in their own events. This little group has now set precedent for giving even senior members of the National team a run for their money. "Healthy competition is always a good thing," Elavenil says. "If you see recent international performances, the Indian contingent outclassed most other nations. Consistently shooting above 630 is not a mean feat at all. The level of competition in India, I feel, is way higher than when we compete in the world." "The more your peers perform well, the more it inspires you to up your game as well." No conversation with the young shooter, however, can be complete without a reference to her mentor- Olympic medalist Gagan Narang. As a 14-year old, she had joined a camp conducted by the Gujarat State Govt and Narang's Gun For Glory Academy. Image: Hindustan Times She was included in the specialised program organised by GFG in collaboration with Olympic Gold Quest. From there, it took her just under three years to win the Junior World Cup Gold in Sydney in March 2018. What's more- she even notched up a World record qualification score of 631.4- breaking her own record. "The first time I started training with him in 2017- it was different to anything I had ever experienced in my life thus far," she recalls. "Training under him is, I would say, one of the most competitive situations. When he there, I feel a certain responsibility to never let him down in whatever I am doing." All said and done, it is safe to assume that the hope and dream of all elite athletes in the country is having a chance to be a part of the Indian Olympic contingent someday. At 19, is it too early for Elavenil to think about the Olympics yet given that she will just be making her Senior World Cup debut in February 2019. The dynamic youngster disagrees. "Honestly speaking, right now the only thing on my mind is the upcoming World Cup. But if I had to target a particular Olympic edition, it would definitely be 2020 and not 2024," she says. "Let's hope for the best."