Spiritual shift, romantic novels, and short hair: How a “failure” at the Olympics changed one of India’s best shooting prospects
Spiritual shift, romantic novels, and short hair: How a “failure” at the Olympics changed one of India’s best shooting prospects. Back at the Olympic Village, I was fuming at my own stupidity. Right at that moment, Anjum (Moudgil) didi told me that my long hair doesn’t complement my face.
Toh waise hi kharab tha, dimaag (My head was not right anyway). My only option was to visit the hairdresser immediately and have it shaved off.
Divyansh Panwar speaks calmly and deliberately about the raging fury he felt on a steamy day in Tokyo last July.
The former number one shooter in the world and medalist in the World Cup dedicated every waking moment of his life to improving his skills so that he would be the best on the day that mattered most: the Olympic final.
When he finished 32nd out of 47 competitors in the 10m air rifle event, he was “humiliated and embarrassed” to go home.
That one experience, his first taste of ‘failure,’ changed the normally carefree and gregarious teen shooter — the official prankster of the Indian team — forever.
He now speaks with the gravitas of a spiritual guru or philosopher. The teen who couldn’t put down PUBG is now reading nothing but love stories.
And the fashionable jewelry around his neck and wrists has been replaced by holy threads and a rudraksha mala bracelet.
Panwar, who will turn 20 in a few months, thinks his new appearance is “wonderful.” I found that it helped me relax.
There is still palpable trauma at the firing positions at the National Games from India’s shooting team’s shocking failure at the Olympics last year.
The country’s former pistol shooting phenom, Saurabh Chaudhary, has fallen so far behind that he is no longer on the team. The World Cup medalist occasionally shoots a 50-meter pistol, which is not an Olympic event, while he plots his comeback in the 10-meter discipline.
Since the Olympics, the shooters’ careers have faded into obscurity due to a lack of notable results and continual team turnover.
After months of professional high leading up to the Olympics—during which time Indian shooters dominated the World Cups, headed the rankings, and were solid favorites to land at least a few medals—story Panwar since depicts in a manner the emotional low the shooters have endured.
Instead, the 15-person squad (the most shooters India has ever sent to the Olympics) faltered so terribly that no one made it to the finals except for Chaudhary.
As a result, the federation revised its selection criteria, and unfamiliar names will take the place of familiar ones at the World Championships in October, where quotas for the Paris Olympics will be at stake. Panwar and company aren’t exactly “ancient” faces, however.
When Panwar, then only 18 years old, entered the Games, he was riding a hot streak in which nearly every pellet fired from his rifle came as close as possible to the bull’s-eye, making him a fan favorite.
He admits shyly, “I wanted to modify something.” After landing in New Delhi, he called his coach Deepak Dubey to make sure that no one was there to greet him. His embarrassment was so great, Dubey adds, that he didn’t want to see anyone.
Panwar, however, quietly entered the nation, caught a taxi, and made his way to his home on the outskirts of Delhi as the medalists returned to a hero’s welcome.
A few days later, he insisted on going back to the range to fire some more rounds and prove to Tokyo that he wasn’t as terrible a shot as he’d been made out to be. “I think he wanted to prove that to himself more than anyone else,” Dubey says.
Panwar, however, was sent to a Vipassana center in Uttarakhand. First, he needed to collect himself. Therefore, he attended Vipassana for a few weeks, and it was the beginning of his journey inward.
All work and no play
One of a series. According to Panwar, several of the team members got together and basically did a post-mortem on the situation.
We talked about the shows, but it didn’t happen as often as it should have, he adds. The issue was, however, that individuals evolved.
What I mean is that everyone became too engrossed in their own little worlds, and all everyone cared about was shooting. The group stopped getting together and everyone went their separate ways. In our experience, that was a complete failure.
It took Panwar almost three months after the Olympics to go back to the range. He claims that it was extremely difficult and that he had to “push” himself.
Panwar had to start all over again after he returned. He recommends “holding time,” a technique in which shooters hold their weapons steady and aim without firing.
As a matter of fact, I did it for the first two months. As soon as we start firing, we let the scoreboard determine our every move. And when we think like way, we tend to overlook the obvious.
So, holding is essential. We need to rein in our want to fire, and holding helps us learn which muscles to tighten and which to relax. All of this contributes to a three to four-point increase in our results.
Panwar, like Chaudhary, has recently underperformed in the selection trials and has been demoted from the main senior rifle team.
After representing his country at the Olympics, he will now compete in the junior division at the World Championships.
Perhaps it will irritate him even more because seniors have a shot at securing Olympic quota seats in Cairo. Panwar, though, gives no indication that this is an issue for him. His assurance that “it’ll happen eventually” is telling.
This is quite a shift for a man who reportedly wanted to run before he could walk. Panwar has done this before.