Abhishek Verma: The accidental shooter
It was not supposed to be like this for Indian shooter Abhishek Verma.
Verma had his trajectory firmly mapped out; after completing a Bachelor of Technology degree, he was to then pursue a degree in law.
But in the midst of his stuties, the Haryana native happened to overhear someone mention that a new shooting range had opened in Hisar.
As a loverof action movies, Verma immediately decided that he wanted to give it a go.
Turns out, he was a natural at it and was soon participating in national competitions.
However, Verma still continued with his law degree in 2017, and only then did he think of taking up shooting more seriously, at the age of 28. “At that time if you had told me I would have won a medal just in the nationals, I would have been thrilled,” he told ESPN India.
Two and a half years from that point, Abhishek Verma boasts of two World Cup golds, an Asian Games bronze, a quota place at the Tokyo Olympics and according to the International Sport Shooting Federation (ISSF), is the second-best 10m air pistol shooter in the world.
The rapid rise to the top
When he had finally made up his mind to take up shooting full-time, the engineer-cum-lawyer enrolled at the Eklavya Shooting Academy in Gurgaon.
His talent was apparent to everyone and Abhishek Verma was soon impressing at state and national levels, even cracking the selection trials for the Indian shooting just a year into it in 2018.
All this from a self-confessed hobby shooter who wanted to pursue a career in law, specialising in cybercrime.
Although he did not make the cut for the team to travel to the Commonwealth Games that year, he did not have to wait too long as he was included among the Indian shooters’ contingent to travel to the Asian Games a few months later.
The campaign may not have begun well for Abhishek Verma as he exited the 10m air pistol team event along with Manu Bhaker in the qualification rounds, but his debut international tournament was about to get better.
In the individual 10m air pistol men’s event, the Indian shooter bagged bronze, a position he believes he could have improved. “I thought everything was going fine and let my guard down, I became relaxed and that backfired. My next two shots were poor and I dropped down to the third position,” he told Firstpost.
It nevertheless was a remarkable feat in what was his first outing with the Indian shooting team, but it was overshadowed by the gold-winning performance of compatriot Saurabh Chaudhary, a prodigy with whom Abhishek Verma is both friends and rivals.
A stellar 2019
The year after his maiden international medal, Abhishek Verma really came into his own, winning two ISSF World Cup gold medals (Beijing and Rio de Janeiro), only the eighth Indian shooter to do so in history.
At Beijing, the 30-year-old outclassed 2008 Olympics gold-medallist Pang Wei and Oleh Omelchuck to claim the top step and book a quota at the Tokyo Olympics while his Rio performance was arguably his best thus far.
Though he had shot a personal best 585 in Beijing and only 582 in the qualifying rounds at Rio, he described the latter as the better feat. “I don't think I've ever shot as well in qualifying. My technique was perfect. I was able to shoot each shot with almost no pressure and complete focus,” he revealed to ESPN.
In the final, he had a sizable lead over Ismael Keles but it came down to just 0.1 as Abhishek Verma shot an underpar 9.6. However, for his final shot, the Indian shooter gathered up his powers of concentration, calmed himself down, stabilised his body and shot a 10.7, giving his opponent no chance of coming back.
Through this year, he also developed a great rivalry with Saurabh Chaudhary as the 16-year-old grabbed the golds at the other two World Cups in New Delhi and Munich.
With such an intense competition developing between the duo, one may think they would like to keep their distance, but it is quite the opposite.
The pair are usually roommates during tournaments and they bond quite well together. “We are like family. Wherever we go, we go together. Even while shopping we stay together. In the evening, we practise and train together as well,” he told Sportstar.
Currently in the ISSF’s 10m air pistol men’s rankings Abhishek is ranked second while Saurabh is fourth, showing just how close the competition is between them.
Gearing up for the ultimate medal
The past two years have been nothing short of a revelation for Abhishek Verma as he levelled up in each year and an Olympic medal would have been a perfect culmination in 2020.
However, circumstances have forced the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 and the Indian shooter is aware of the difficulties a year’s delay brings about. “Hitting the peak and then maintaining it, maintaining my concentration and focus is going to be challenging. Though it gives us more time, one year is a lot of time,” he told the Press Trust of India.
Certainly in the case of Verma - the 'accidental shooter' - one year represents a huge amount of time in the context of his short shooting career so far. Now just three years into dedicating himself to the sport, his rapid rise from unconventional beginnings could yet have a fairytale ending.