The Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta not only marked Indian shooter Abhishek Verma’s international debut but also his first major medal.
Abhishek Verma may boast a World Championships silver and two ISSF World Cup gold medals but the Indian shooter still considers his first-ever international medal - a bronze at the 2018 Asian Games - as the most cherished prize of his career so far.
For the Tokyo Olympics quota winner, who is expected to represent India in his debut Summer Games in 2021, the Asiad in Jakarta was also his first international competition and made him believe that he belonged in the shooting range.
“It was a special experience because it was my first time representing India and I was up against several Olympians at the event, including the South Korean shooter (Jin Jong-oh), who is a six-time Olympic medallist,” Verma told the Olympic Channel.
Verma’s shooting career has been unique. An engineering degree holder, Abhishek Verma was pursuing law when he took to shooting as a sport, inspired by his love for action movies.
What started as just a hobby at a local shooting range in Hisar, soon sprouted into his passion and before he knew it, Verma was making his international debut at the 2018 Asian Games at the ripe age of 29.
“Saurabh Chaudhary and I were selected to represent India in the 10m air pistol at the Asian Games. We were roommates in Jakarta. I remember Saurabh had played in several junior competitions before but for me, it was my first,” Verma recalled.
Saurabh, who was just 16 at the time, won the gold medal at the event.
Verma’s first hurdle at the event was the qualifiers, where he had to finish in the top eight among a field of 41 shooters to make it to the finals and get into medal contention.
The qualifiers consist of six rounds. In each round, the shooters get ten shots to score points out of a maximum 100. Verma scored 96, 97, 95, 96 and 97 in his first five rounds but found himself out of the top eight and staring at an early elimination.
“After the first 50 shots, I was not in the top eight and needed almost a 100 in the last round to have any chance of qualifying from the finals,” the Indian shooter remembers.
But at the clutch moment, Verma managed to dig deep, compose himself and shot a 99 to ensure he placed sixth in the qualifiers to make it to the final round with a total score of 580.
“Before the final round of the qualifiers, I rested for about two-three minutes. I opened my shooting diary, where I jot down my daily progress report and went through that. It really helped me to fight the round,” he noted.
Jong-oh, the most decorated Olympic shooter of all time, was the pick of the lot. He has won four Olympic gold medals - three in 50m air pistol and one in 10m air pistol. A world record holder in both 10m and 50m air pistol, Jong-oh also has two Olympics silver medals - one each in 10m and 50m - under his belt.
“I had an Olympic champion competing against me. I had to stay focused throughout the game and give my hundred per cent with every shot,” Verma said.
Verma scored 219.3 to clinch bronze behind Saurabh Chaudhary (240.7) and silver medallist Tomoyuki Matsuda (239.7). Chinese shooter Wu Jiayu finished fourth followed by Jin Jong-oh.
On the fence about being able to cut it as a professional shooter back then, the podium finish on his international debut gave Abhishek Verma the sign he needed to commit fully to the craft.
“Despite it being the first competition, I performed well. From that day itself, I chose shooting as my profession,” Verma declared.
The choice has paid off. Since his Asian Games triumph, Abhishek Verma has established himself as one of the best pistol shooters in India, winning the silver at the 2018 World Championships in Changwon, South Korea, and clinching back-to-back gold medals in the 2019 ISSF World Cups in Beijing and Rio respectively.
Considered one of India’s biggest medal hopes for Tokyo, Verma will eye a medal run in Japan with a performance he just may be able to place above his performance in Jakarta.
“In the upcoming Olympics, I want to give my best and to win a gold medal for my country,” he signed off.