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'Here for 10 more years': Olympic medallist shooter Vijay Kumar explains his surprise return

India has not won an Olympic medal in shooting since Vijay Kumar's silver in 2012. The Bridge catches up with the 36-year-old as he makes his way back to the Indian squad after a long break from the sport.

Olympic silver medallist shooter Vijay Kumar (Source: Getty)

Olympic silver medallist shooter Vijay Kumar (Source: Getty)


Md Imtiaz

Updated: 2022-05-13T09:30:52+05:30

The audience and staff, who were present at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range in Delhi to witness the 64th Shooting Nationals in November 2021, were up for a major surprise. A familiar and beloved face had returned to the range after a gap of five years. While many thought the 2012 London Olympic silver medallist shooter, Vijay Kumar, had come to pay a visit, speculations were crushed as soon as the 36-year-old picked up his pistol, set his eye on the target and shot at it.

Returning to the shooting range was always on his mind, says Vijay Kumar. However, he did not expect the event to be as dramatic as Jon Snow's resurrection in Games of Thrones. "People were surprised when they saw me in the Nationals event in November. They thought I had stopped shooting and I could hear their whispers in the stand while I was focussing on my target. That is when I decided to surprise them when I ended up securing the fourth position," quips the Olympic silver medallist shooter in an exclusive interview with
The Bridge
. In fact, India has not won an Olympic medal in shooting since Vijay's silver at the Royal Artillery Barracks on the afternoon of August 3 in 2012.
Even after ten years of winning the Olympic medal and four years of completely staying away from shooting, Vijay Kumar hasn't lost his touch. He competed in the nationals with just a week's preparation and reached the top 8 to be in the final of the 25m Men's Rapidfire pistol event. Though he bowed out after 17 shots, his return became one of the most talked-about topics among the shooting fraternity.

Vijay Kumar after winning the silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics (Source: Olympics)

"It (returning to shooting) was always on my mind," says Vijay with a modest smile on his face. After missing out on an Olympic quota for the 2016 Rio Games, Vijay took a break from competing on international stages. In 2018, he left his job in the Indian Army and joined the police department in his state Himachal Pradesh. He shared that he was occupied with the DSP training programme, which kept him out of the shooting range.

"I got engaged in training in the police department, which requires two to three years. Then came the COVID outbreak and all the quota places for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were also filled up. So I decided to focus entirely on my police training and then come back to my sport again once the entire training period is over," says the Deputy Superintendent of Police in Shimla.
Vijay goes on to admit that it wasn't an easy decision for him as well, as he knew that despite being an Olympic medallist, it was not going to be a cakewalk to be amongst the top shooters, particularly after a complete break of four years. "I was aware of everything before rejoining shooting. My challenge was to start from zero again. After staying out of touch for four years, I simply did not think I will come back and beat everyone," says Vijay.
The shooter had set smaller objectives for his return, which he kept pursuing. Starting off with competing in the nationals, then getting his name up on selection trials and making his way into the national squad — Vijay picked up his pace in just about seven months, proving true to his reputation. In fact, he currently averages the second-best among the men's senior 25m Rapid Fire pistol event, which didn't see a single representation in Tokyo Olympics.
"Before starting the competition, my focus was just to qualify for the nationals, then the trials and now I have made it to the national team. Slowly, I am ticking off my targets. And right now, my focus would be to become consistent. Though I am presently the second-best shooter in my category in India, my scores are not up to the mark when compared to the best shooters in the world. I still have a lot to catch up to do and have to be optimistic about getting a chance to compete in the upcoming international tournaments." says Vijay, who is presently housed in the camp in Delhi that will go on till May 18.
Incidentally, the five-time Commonwealth Gold medallist, Vijay is the oldest among all the shooters in the camp who are competing in his pet event. Occasionally, he is seen lending suggestions to his juniors, who are mostly happy drawing inspiration from him. "There are plenty of talented youngsters in the camp, who are doing exceptionally well. While many were inspired by me, I am sure some were jealous seeing me back," he adds bursting into laughter.
Besides, he will also be leaving the camp a bit early to take part in the Himachal Pradesh state shooting championships. He adds, "The shooting culture in Himachal Pradesh is growing, as I am quite optimistic about seeing a few of the shooters from the state perform well in the Khelo India Games. I will be taking part in the state championships next week in Shimla so that my presence in the arena can inspire more youngsters to take up this sport."
Vijay was in line to represent India at the Shooting World Cup in Baku from May 27 to June 7, but the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has decided against sending the pistol team. "I don't know the reason behind it. So my focus will be on the Korea World cup, which is scheduled in July 2022," says the 2012 Khel Ratna awardee.

Vijay Kumar receiving the Khel Ratna Award in 2012 by the then President of India Pranab Mukherjee (Source: TOI)

The senior shooter who had expected to see India win two to three medals at the Tokyo Olympics was disappointed by the drought. "I don't know what went wrong in Tokyo. I was even surprised that no one could qualify in the 25m pistol rapid fire event. But with so many talented shooters at present, I hope to see a big change in the Paris Olympics."
Many of his teammates, with whom Vijay went on to participate in the London Olympics, have moved on to full-time coaching. London Games bronze medallist, Gagan Narang runs his own shooting Academy. Joydeep Karmakar, who missed a medal by a whisker in the same Olympics, also has his own academy and now has been appointed as the national rifle team coach. When asked about his own coaching plans, Vijay remarked "I would love to be a coach later in my career, but for the next 10 years, I have no plans of quitting the sport and taking part in international competitions. And definitely, the biggest goal right now would be to compete in the Paris 2024 Games."
But first, Vijay, who is till now balancing between his job of DSP and his sporting dreams, will seek his employer's permission for a longer break to pursue the sport, "I am balancing my job and shooting as well. My department is allowing me to participate in camps and national competitions. But in the long run, I am seeking permission for a longer duration to stay in the sport. As an athlete, we are always on the move — be it domestic events, international events or even firearm imports. All this takes a lot of time," concludes Vijay.
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