Games & medals
Rajyavardhan S. RATHORE biography
Army man, sports minister, member of parliament - Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore became the first Indian post-independence to win an individual silver at the Olympics when he stood on the podium for the men's double trap shooting at Athens 2004.
Born in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, to a teacher and an army father, Rathore grew up with the values of national service.
“I have always lived with a cause. In the army, it was the existence of the sanctity of the nation and the men I was commanding, and in sports, it was the pride of my country, while in politics, it is the rights of citizens I am fighting for,” he said.
Rajyavardhan Rathore dabbled in many sports and was particularly passionate about cricket, even earning himself a spot in the Madhya Pradesh Ranji Trophy team. However, his mother’s dissuasion and another selection in the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA) meant that he had to pass the opportunity.
Rathore soon joined the Indian Military Academy and was stationed in Jammu and Kashmir during India’s Kargil War operation.
Even during his time with the NDA and the Indian army, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore excelled at sport, winning the ‘Blazer’ - the highest sports award in the NDA – and the Sikh Regiment Gold Medal, awarded to the best sportsman at the Indian Military Academy.
He took up shooting as a sport in 1998 when the army decided to form a team and as was the case for much of his 28-year-old life up until then, he soon rose to make an impact.
‘Major’ Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore announced his arrival at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, where he won gold with a new Games record of 192, a record that stands to this day. He added another gold in the Double Trap pairs.
The Indian shooter continued turning heads with bronze at the 2003 World Championships to end a 40-year-long wait for India for a medal at the tournament.
In the months prior to the Athens 2004 Olympics, the army man prepared intensely, working under former world champion Luca Marini and Olympic gold medallist Russell Mark, even moving base to Italy to work closely with his gun manufacturer Mauro Perazzi.
At Athens, he had a sub-par qualification round, ranking only fifth but had crucially made it to the finals. In the six-man contest in the final, UAE’s Shaikh Ahmed Almaktoum was in raging form and took an unassailable lead to lock the gold.
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had to see off stiff challenges from Chinese duo Wang Zheng and Hu Binyuan and Swedish shooter Håkan Dahlby in order to get the best position on the podium.
In a tense finish, the Indian marksman hit both clay targets in his last attempt to edge out eventual bronze medallist Wang Zheng by a single point.
Rathore’s silver was also India’s first Olympic shooting medal, one that would help usher in a new era in the sport in the country.
After the heady highs, Rathore remained an active shooter, defending his individual Double Trap gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in addition to a silver medal in the pairs.
He also won his first World Cup gold at Cairo the same year and went on to win bronze at Granada, to add to his World Cup silver from Sydney two years back.
The Padma Shri winner holds the record of four consecutive gold medals at the Asian Clay Target Championship from 2003 to 2006. His last gold medal at the Asian Clay Target Championship in 2011 saw him equal the world record with a score of 194.
At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Rathore made it to the Indian shooting squad and though he could not win a second medal, he witnessed Abhinav Bindra creating history to become India’s first individual Olympic gold medallist.
The baton had passed, and Bindra duly credited him: “Rathore changed me. His Olympic silver ensured that gold medal became my possibility,” Bindra said.
In 2013, ‘Colonel’ Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore took voluntary retirement from the army and focused on politics, rising to become a Member of Parliament in 2014.
He was instrumental in setting up the Khelo India Youth Games during his stint as a minister of youth affairs and sports and the ex-shooter is now helping India discover new, young talents.