A 16-year-old in any part of the world will usually be preparing for college or figuring out the transition of life as they turn towards adulthood. Not many are dedicated or train hard enough to set world records, but Indian shooter Saurabh Chaudhary did exactly that.
Interestingly, he held both the junior and senior world record scores in the men’s 10m air pistol event at one point, with the former being a better one too. All at the age of 16.
Early last year at the shooting World Cup in New Delhi, Saurabh Chaudhary made a memorable debut in the senior men’s 10m air pistol event, winning gold with a record score and with it, secured an Olympic quota for Indian shooters at Tokyo.
However, that is just one in a long list of laurels for the teenager, and he will still be one when he makes his debut at the marquee event when Tokyo 2020 rolls around.
While Saurabh Chaudhary is still young, he began to shoot only five years back, at the age of 13, when he accompanied a friend to a range some distance away from their village, Kalina in Uttar Pradesh. It impressed him so much that he began training and shooting the next day.
His coach Amit Sheoran and all the other kids at the range were shocked by the young Indian shooter’s prowess, with his scores befuddling everyone within three or four months. It prompted the coach to ask his family to buy him his own pistol.
A shooter’s pistol is an expensive commodity and for a family with limited means like Saurabh Chaudhary, it was a daunting ask. However, they also knew that the kid could be a potential superstar and so borrowed a loan to help him pursue his dream.
“We had a discussion among the family members, and it was decided we will buy it. Saurabh now has two pistols but he shoots with the first one only,” his elder brother Nitin Chaudhary told Scroll.in.
The supportive family even created a shooting range at home between two opposite rooms so that the young Indian shooter could practice in peace, something he could not quite get at the actual range where a lot of other kids practiced.
Pairing with Manu Bhaker
Those financial decisions and efforts paid off in 2018 when Saurabh Chaudhary made instant headlines when he became a gold medallist at the 2018 Asian Games with a record score, outperforming 42-year-old Japanese Tomoyuki Matsuda and compatriot Abhishek Verma, who finished third.
He was the youngest Indian shooter to win an Asiad gold and joined an elite list which only had four names to begin with - Randhir Singh, Ronjan Sodhi, Jitu Rai and the current national pistol coach Jaspal Rana.
The year had more in store as he shot a Youth Olympic gold in Argentina and bagged five more gold medals and a bronze at the ISSF Junior World Cup, the ISSF World Championships and the Asian Airgun Championship, the latter two also at the junior level.
The year 2019 began on a perfect note with the young Indian shooter setting a world en route gaining a quota at the Tokyo Olympics and as the year progressed, the partnership between Saurabh Chaudhary and fellow teenager Manu Bhaker began to make headlines.
The young Indian shooters’ duo had won a gold at the mixed team 10m air pistol events in the 2019 shooting World Cup and then he individually won two more gold medals at the ISSF World Cups in Beijing, Munich and Rio de Janeiro with a silver to boot at the Asian Championship in Doha behind North Korea's Kim Song Guk.
“We are not very connected. We are two very different things,” Manu Bhaker had said when enquired about why the pairing is so successful. “We just focus on our individual performance. He doesn't give much thought on my performance and neither do I think about his. I think that makes us fearless and we shoot for ourselves.”
Along with Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela, the two teenagers will likely form a formidable contingent that will travel for the Tokyo Olympics.
Chasing the Olympic gold
The young Indian shooter is a self-made star in his own right and is on his way to becoming a bonafide one if his coach is to be believed.
“I am proud that he remains the same and has not forgotten what he was taught. There may be someone in the future who is similar to him. But Saurabh’s level is different. How can one be so alone, so silent? The way he has made himself, no one can,” was how Amit Sheoran described him to Scroll.in.
With an enviable list of medals and performances under his belt, Saurabh Chaudhary undoubtedly starts as one of the favourites to bring home a medal at the Olympic Games. Barely eligible to be called an adult, such enormous pressure can often weigh down on any athlete, more so a rookie one.
However, the teenager is already up for the challenge. “It’s my first Olympics and I wish I can bring home the gold like Abhinav Bindra, my inspiration in shooting,” Saurabh Chaudhary told the Forbes India magazine.
His first two years at the senior level have been nothing short of a revelation and with the IOC postponing the Tokyo Olympics by a year, it only gives Saurabh Chaudhary more time to set himself up for Olympic glory.