How Gagan Narang buried Beijing demons at London 2012
Missing out on a medal in shooting at the Beijing 2008 Games was a bitter pill to swallow for Indian shooter Gagan Narang.
The fact that he lost out on the finals in Beijing on countback only made matters worse, lest we forget his build-up heading into Beijing in the summer of 2008.
The Indian shooter was in stupendous form going into the Olympics that year having grown in confidence with four gold medals from the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Heartbreak in Beijing
Narang also went into the Beijing Games having become a gold medallist at the Air Rifle World Cup in 2006 and had even attained a score of 704.3 at a pre-Olympic event in Germany.
The shooter from Hyderabad had also qualified for the 2008 ISSF World Cup Final after winning Air Rifle gold at the World Cup in China in early 2008.
Hence, it’s easy to understand the heartbreak and shock he endured after agonizingly missing out on qualifying for the final round by a countback of scores, where he was stuck on 595 out of 600 with five other shooters.
“It was tough,” he accepted. “I shot an 8.9 in my 42nd shot and the difference between an 8.9 and 9 is a hair's breadth.”
While dealing with disappointment is an integral part of every athlete’s career, Gagan Narang found himself more deeply affected than most as he watched compatriot Abhinav Bindra create history. Bittersweet to say the least.
After all, creating history while wielding a gun was everything that Gagan Narang had ever dreamed of as a two-year-old while shooting balloons and the heartbreak got to him in the months to follow.
“I was in a state of shock and depression. When I came back home, I did not touch the gun and I would have these emotional outbursts,” Gagan Narang revealed.
“I could not sleep for a couple of days and I would wake up in my sleep.”
However, he regained inspiration from a childhood interest of his - that of the famous James Bond and his Walther rifle, which had got him into shooting in the first place.
The marksman from Chennai dealt with disappointment like his hero, taking a leaf out of 007’s book and beginning his road to redemption at the shooting range within a week of his exit from Beijing 2008.
Road to London 2012
His return to action picked up momentum with a gold at the 2008 ISSF World Cup Final, with a perfect score of 600, creating a new world record of 703.5 in the final.
“I didn't leave even one point to chance this time and I had to shoot a perfect score. “It kind of motivated me to carry on again,” Gagan Narang revealed.
He followed it up with gold in the 10m Air Rifle event as well as a bronze medal in the 50m Rifle 3 Positions at the ISSF World Cup 2009.
The following year brought him even more success in the form of gold in the ISSF World Shooting Championships, four more gold medals in the 2010 Commonwealth games and two silver medals in the Asian Games.
Gagan Narang’s efforts were also recognized by the Indian government as he was conferred the country’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in 2011.
However, despite all the success, the disappointment of Beijing 2008 still burned deep within him.
His desire to right his wrongs from Beijing was put under even more pressure after the 2008 Olympic gold medallist and his countryman Abhinav Bindra crashed out before the final round at the London 2012 Olympics.
In what was a reversal of fortunes from four years back, Gagan Narang found himself under the limelight as Abhinav Bindra looked on.
The weight of expectation following Abhinav Bindra’s exit intensified as a billion eyes back home pinned their hopes on Gagan Narang to win the nation a medal.
“There was a lot of pressure from expectations. I would not say pressure is bad; in my case, it helped me perform. But the pressure on me was actually building from the time I lost out on shooting at the finals in Beijing on countback,” he had admitted to the Olympic Channel.
“I had to go back to the drawing board and re-chart my Olympic journey. At every stage, I recalibrated my skills.”
Fulfilling his Olympic dream
Determined to exorcise his demons from Beijing, absolutely nothing was going to get in the way of Gagan Narang becoming an Olympic medal winner this time around.
The final saw him demonstrate tremendous temperament and resolve to hold his nerve in a tense climax that witnessed the competitors’ rankings, including that of the top three, change with every shot.
In the end, though, Gagan Narang managed to keep China’s Wang Tao, who was hot on his heels in the final, at bay and finished with an Olympics bronze behind Romania’s Alin George Moldoveanu and Niccolo Campriani of Italy.
It was India’s first medal at the 2012 Olympics and one that lifted a “great stone” off Gagan Narang’s chest in his own words.
“This is the only medal I didn’t have in my cabinet, so now I can pin it on there,” he said after becoming an Olympic bronze medallist.
Gagan Narang has since gone on to add more gloss to his already-stacked medals and trophy cabinet and is a national sports icon, providing inspiration for future stars like Apurvi Chandela and mentoring impressive youngsters like Elavenil Valarivan, through the ‘Gagan Narang Sports Promotion’ foundation.
However, nothing could ever take the place of that coveted medal, not only because it established India as a power to reckon with in sport shooting, but also for the liberating feeling and satisfaction it gave Gagan Narang to fulfill a life-long dream.