The quest for an Olympics medal will continue for veteran India rifle shooter Sanjeev Rajput as he is set to represent the country at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
Nearing 40, Rajput still dreams of Olympic gold, and his determination is evident even after the sub-par performances at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
At Beijing, Rajput failed to reach the final of the men's 50 m rifle prone event. Four years later in London, he suffered a similar fate and could not make the final-cut in the men's 50 m rifle three positions event.
Though he had won a quota for Rio 2016 in the 50m rifle three positions event, the National Rifles Association of India (NRAI) gave his spot to the shotgun squad.
However, Rajput has a chance at redemption as he prepares for the Tokyo Olympics.
Took to shooting while with the Indian Navy
Rajput hails from a small town called Jagadhri in Haryana. Rajput joined the Indian Navy at the age of 18 as a sailor. It was in the Navy that he took shooting seriously.
After completing his basic course in the Navy, he was sent to sea for professional training and was commissioned to the gunnery. Rajput excelled in target practices and it was an easy decision for him to take up shooting as a sport.
“There are no shooting ranges on ships, so we fixed a target on the quarterdeck with long sticks and hooks and took aim,” Rajput recounted to Hindustan Times earlier. “The ship lurched, the target swayed and standing on the unstable deck with those heavy assault rifles, we took aim. That experience aroused my interest in shooting. I liked that feeling.”
Rajput used all sorts of weapons initially - pistols, carbines, and big bore rifles. He began competing in inter-ship competitions soon and by 2002, was a part of the Navy’s sport shooting team.
He left the Navy as a Junior Commissioned Officer in 2014.
Emergence as a shooter
Rajput came to the fore at the national level when he bagged three gold medals and a silver at the SAF Games, Islamabad, 2004.
Ever since 2004, Rajput has been making a name for himself with his brilliant performance at the national and international level. He has bagged one gold and three silver medals from the ISSF World Cups.
His impeccable marksmanship has also presented itself at the Asian Games where he clinched a medal in every edition since 2006. In 2006 at Doha, he won a bronze 50 m rifle three positions team event. In 2010, he won a silver in the 10m air rifle team event. Four years later, he won a bronze in the same event. In 2018, it was silver for Rajput in the 50 m rifle three positions individual event.
He has also won medals at the Commonwealth shooting championships.
The three shades of metal at the Commonwealth Games
Rajput, incidentally, has won a bronze, a silver and a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. Interestingly, the hue of the medal changed progressively at each tournament. In the 2006 Commonwealth Games at Melbourne, he won a bronze in the 50m rifle prone.
Though he missed out at the 2010 Games in New Delhi, he upgraded his medal to silver in 2014 at Glasgow (50 m rifle three positions).
Silver would turn to gold at Gold Coast in 2018 in the 50m rifle three positions for Rajput.
Recognitions and coaching
In 2016, Rajput was appointed a shooting coach by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) at the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range in New Delhi.
And his stint as a shooting coach has actually helped him reignite his career.
“The best thing that happened when I coached was that as I taught my technique, I could rewind and further improve my technique,” he told Hindustan Times back then.
Rajput was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2010 and was adjudged the Services Best Sports Person for the year 2009–2010.
Tokyo Olympics qualification
Rajput booked his Tokyo Olympics berth by bagging a silver medal at the 50m rifle three positions event at the 2019 ISSF World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.
He finished second behind Petar Gorsa of Croatia by a margin of 0.2 points. However, he is eyeing the top spot at the Tokyo Olympics.
"I have a clear target of winning gold at Tokyo 2020 Olympics and I am working for it. I know it will be tough, but I can do it. At the moment, the European shooters have started playing in competitions and [begun] full training. Due to this, there is an obvious gap in the level of the game at the moment and the preparations, given the fact that Indian shooters are yet to start doing full practice," Rajput told Tokyo 2020.
"This also means I will have to do double the work as compared to them, but I am determined to do so."