In awe of the sensational Saurabh Chaudhary, former world championship silver-medallist shooter Jitu Rai feels the introvert young marksman has it in him to humble one of the sport’s all-time greats, South Korean Jin Jong-Oh, in the Tokyo Games.
Jin is one of the most successful individual shooters at the Summer Olympics, having won a record-breaking six medals, including four gold.
Rai is also backing the industrious Yashaswini Singh Deswal and the extremely talented Manu Bhaker to “do something good” at the Games in Tokyo.
“Saurabh Chaudhary is something else. I have seen him shoot and it’s not just about the medals he is winning, he is actually winning them with very high scores. And it’s no surprise that he is holding the world record at the moment,” Rai told PTI during an interview.
In terms of form, wins and records, Chaudhary is to the Indian shooting contingent ahead of the Tokyo Games, what Rai was to the group that competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Reminded about that, Rai, who has got the better of Jin Jong-Oh in the past, said Chaudhary is different.
“You just need to look at the scores he registers. It is amazing how he does that so regularly and so well. I may have also won a lot of medals international competitions but you can see that Saurabh’s scores are higher than what I was shooting.
“In Tokyo, if he scores 582-583 in the qualifications, 99 pre cent he is going to make the finals, and he can score more than that. He is surely one of the biggest prospects in the 10m air pistol event,” the modest shooter, who is now eyeing the 2024 Paris Olympics after missing out on the current Games, said.
Having trained and competed with him in the past, Rai knows a thing or two about Chaudhary.
“He is quiet and reserved, fully focussed on the job at hand. He should win it in Tokyo.”
Regarding Yashaswini, who will represent India in the women’s 10m air pistol, along with Manu, Rai pointed out that the Chandigarh-based shooter is one of the most hardworking he has seen in the sport.
“I remember there was once a camp in Germany and she would train there till evening, having her lunch at the range and using the dining table to rest in the afternoon, even as we would be in the hotel readying to go for our meal.
“Again, during a camp in Delhi, I saw her practising three-four rounds of qualifications at a stretch, which is beyond me. So that is the kind of dedication she has, and an Olympic medal will be an apt reward for such labour,” Rai said of Yashaswini.
One of India’s most accomplished pistol shooters, Rai knows a thing or two about entering the Olympics as a sure-shot prospect and then enduring an inexplicable meltdown.
Subedar Major Rai, who is currently training at the Army Marksman Unit in Mhow and has placed the 2024 Olympics as one of his major long-term goals, is also pinning his hopes on Manu and Abhishek Verma to earn podium finishes at the Games.
“Manu Bhaker is very good with her game and mind, she can deliver. As far as Abhishek Verma is concerned, he is not very experienced but he has done really well despite his late entry into the sport.”
Wiser from his inexplicable meltdown at last Olympics, the pistol ace has advised the Indian shooters competing in Tokyo to be “extremely careful” during the time between qualifications and finals, as that is when one can fall prey to distraction.
During the 2016 Rio Games five years ago, Rai became the first Indian pistol shooter to clear the men’s 10m qualification at the Olympics, but could not live up to the huge expectations in the eight-men final.
Not part of the current team, the former world championship silver and Asian Games gold medallist shooter said the role of coaches become very important during the phase between the qualifications and finals.
“That is the time when the coaches are required to protect the shooters from all kinds of distraction, because even the most minute of things can proved to be inimical to the chances of winning medals,” Rai said.
“I don’t know about myself in Rio, it’s very difficult to say. After a good qualification, I gave my best in the final but, somehow, it was not enough and it did not work out.”