Indian shooter Vijay Kumar believes Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s success at the 2004 Athens Olympics was a watershed moment for Indian shooting and paved the way for future triumphs, including his own silver medal at the Games eight years later.
“In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore won silver, which was the first individual medal for India (in shooting). After that achievement, a lot of Indian shooters started believing that we are no lesser and we can also win a medal,” Vijay Kumar noted during The Medal of Glory show on Sony Sports’ Facebook page.
“That is why Indian athletes started training harder and the self-belief grew which resulted in more individual medals,” he added.
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver medal in 2004 was not only India’s first-ever medal in shooting at the Olympics but was also the nation’s first individual silver medal at the Games.
The Indian shooter’s feat at Athens kickstarted an era of sustained success for India at the Games as India saw as many as 11 individual medallists emerge over the next three editions.
Three of these came from shooters. Apart from Abhinav Bindra’s historic gold in 2008, Vijay Kumar won silver at the 25m Rapid Fire Pistol event in the 2012 Olympics and Gagan Narang clinched bronze in the 10m Air Rifle event the same year.
The Army influence
Vijay Kumar’s career as a sportsman, interestingly, bears a stark parallel to Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s. Both of their shooting careers took root during the time they were serving in the Indian Army.
Hailing from a middle-class family with no sporting background, it was only during his posting at an army cantonment in Madhya Pradesh that Vijay Kumar took up shooting as a sport.
“I consider myself very fortunate that I got a chance to pursue shooting during my time in the army and got their support to help me excel in the sport which got me to where I am today.
“In the army, you have to do physical training, weapon training and all that. You could say that I had a natural flair or talent for these things, which were developed by the training I received during my time with the army. The army trainers pushed me, provided me with facilities,” he said.
Support system vital for success
The army, however, wasn’t the only catalyst that moulded Vijay Kumar into the Olympic champion he is.
According to the Indian shooter, a strong support system is vital for an athlete’s success as it is difficult for an individual to manage the multiple facets involved in becoming a successful athlete.
“There was a lot of help from my funders, my coaches and my training partners. They deserve a mention because for any sportsperson, to reach a higher level, you need the support from everyone,” he stated.
“Even my parents who motivated me a lot. Even when I came back empty-handed from competitions, they encouraged me and bucked me up,” Vijay Kumar added, outlining the emotional support he received from his family.
Olympics the pinnacle for Vijay Kumar
Vijay Kumar also boasts multiple accolades on big stages like the Commonwealth Games, ISSF World Shooting Championships and the Asian Games.
But for the 34-year-old, representing the country and winning a medal at the Olympics is the pinnacle for any athlete’s life.
“I believe that you have to train really hard to compete at the Olympic level. That is the pinnacle of sport and every athlete dreams of winning a medal there.
“I put in the hard yards and reaped the rewards,” he declared.