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Renewed technique, self-confidence – Mairaj Khan targets maiden podium at World Championships

Veteran shotgun shooter Mairaj Ahmad Khan speaks to The Bridge ahead of the 2022 ISSF Shotgun World Championships.

Mairaj Ahmad Khan

Mairaj Ahmad Khan (Source: The Hindu)


Abhijit Nair

Updated: 2022-09-18T10:55:19+05:30

At 46, Mairaj Ahmad Khan is one of the most experienced shooters in India. Having competed at the highest level for close to two decades, Khan still continues to go strong as the best Indian skeet shooter.

"The passion," explains Khan straight away about what keeps him going. "Winning an Olympic gold medal for India is the only aim," he adds.

With the 2022 ISSF Shotgun World Championships to kickstart shortly, Mairaj Khan has his target set.

"Yes, the ultimate aim is to do well in the Paris Olympics, but the aim in the World Championships will be to finish first. I cannot be going into the competition thinking about the Olympics qualification quota on offer," Khan said in a conversation with The Bridge.

"This is the first tournament with an Olympics berth in the offer, so it does not make sense to put that unnecessary pressure on myself. I will get other opportunities and it is important that I focus on what is in my control," he said.

The first Indian skeet shooter to qualify for the Olympics, Mairaj believes that a changed technique and approach under his new coach Riccardo Filippelli has helped him gain massive strides after a disappointing couple of years.

"After the Tokyo Olympics, I realised I need to work harder than I ever have in the past. I changed my coach immediately after that and things are slowly falling in place," he said.

"I have changed my technique altogether. I like to say I have restarted skeet in a new mode. It is totally new to me. Sometimes you need to break something to build something new and that's exactly what I have been trying with Filippelli, and the result in Korea earlier this year shows that I am on the right path," he added.

While Mairaj himself is 46-year-old, Riccardo Filippelli is just 42. How does this equation work wherein his coach is younger than him?

"I know this is a cliché, but age is just a number. I do not look at it in this way. I just need someone to push me, teach me, and give me a plan to follow. Riccardo does not shoot now, but he was one of the best during his days. There are some things which I did not know about at all before I started working with him, so all in all I am learning a lot from him each day," Mairaj said.

Mairaj, earlier this year, became the first Indian skeet shooter to win a World Cup gold medal in Changwon, South Korea. This was his first World Cup medal since 2016 Rio, wherein he had to settle for a silver after a tough battle.

"That gold medal has given me a renewed self-confidence. It makes me believe if I can win a gold medal in a World Cup, I can win in other events too. That being said, not a single shooter can keep on winning all events. Shooting is a volatile sport that way," he said.

'Peaking at the right time,' is one of the more overused phrases in Indian sports over the years, especially for the Indian shooters, who have a tendency of choking during important tournaments. Mairaj Ahmad Khan rubbishes the concept completely.

"I do not believe in the concept of peaking. What I believe in is consistency," he said.

Mairaj has competed in 3 World Cups so far this year and has been consistent with a score of 119.

"All you can do in shooting is be as consistent as possible or improve. I have competed in 3 World Cups this year and have shot 119 in each of them. This means that even though I am not improving, I am not doing badly either. And once you maintain this consistency, the results will fall in place," he explained.

The veteran shooter also emphasised on the need for holistic training in order to maintain this consistency in the shooting range during competitions.

"I work with a team where I have a technical coach, a physical trainer, and a mental coach – all three of them play an equal role. Even leaving out one of these can lead to the performance going haywire. After a certain time, you probably do not need a lot of shooting training, it becomes instinctive but you might need more physical or mental training at this point. Currently, I am in a phase where I am pushing myself on all three fronts," he said.

A massive Roger Federer fan, Mairaj Ahmad Khan believes an athlete knows when it is the right time for him or her to hang the boots.

"It came as a big surprise to me (Federer's retirement announcement). I have always been the biggest fan – no one can match his aura. Everybody has to go someday, no one will continue forever. He knew it was time for him to bid goodbye and every athlete knows when it's time to walk away from the sport. Hopefully, for me, that time is still far," Mairaj chuckled.

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