Just like any other 16-year-old, Divyansh Panwar has enjoyed his rare day out in Rio – stroll along the Ipanema sea front, soaking in the sights of the Atlantic Ocean from Copacabana beach, and following it up with the cable car ride to the Sugarloaf Mountain.
He would not mind another round of the sightseeing tour but then he has a more serious task at hand.
The class XII student from Jaipur is no ordinary teenager. He had first upstaged many of the country’s big names in 10m air rifle shooting to first break into the senior India team earlier this year, and then created a sensation by earning a quota place for the Olympics by finishing runners up in the World Cup in Beijing.
But with less than a year left for the Tokyo Games, Divyansh has no time to celebrate his phenomenal rise.
The youngster is in Rio, preparing for his next World Cup where he will square-off against some of the best shooters in the world.
The Indian team reached the Brazilian city two weeks before the event kicks off to acclimatise with the conditions.
“When I was taking part in Beijing, it was just my second World Cup and there was no expectations. Now there will be pressure on me. I am happy with my technique but I need to be more focussed mentally,’’ says Divyansh in an exclusive chat with The Quint.
To increase his concentration powers, many of the online games from his mobile have been deleted and most of his time outside the shooting range is spent reading books rather than immersing himself in the virtual gaming world.
"“Thankfully I have got rid of my addiction to PUBG (a popular mobile game). I am currently reading the autobiography of my role model Abhinav Bindra – A Shot at History: My Obsessive Journey to Olympic Gold.’’" - Divyansh Panwar
At Beijing’s Shooting Hall, the same venue where his idol Bindra had won the historic Olympic gold 11 years ago, Divyansh had a fairytale run. He first combined with Anjum Moudgill to strike gold in the 10m rifle mixed event. Less than 24 hours later, he came up with yet another nerveless display making it to the final of the individual event. He was unfazed by the challenges of some of the top ranked shooters and looked to be firmly in control.
Divyansh made shooting in a World Cup look as simple as hitting the targets in the virtual battleground of his online PUBG game.
He finished third in the qualifiers. Even in the final, he looked to be in great touch, just falling short of the gold medallist Zhi Cheng Hui of China by 0.4 points.
‘Olympic Quota Put Responsibilities on Me’
Top shooters are mostly introverts who prefer to spend time in solitude to build on their concentration. But Divyansh was an exception.
“I was just like any other teenager enjoying my growing up years with usual share of fun with my friends but the Olympic quota has suddenly put a lot of responsibilities on my shoulder.”
Divyansh left his family in Jaipur and shifted to Faridabad so that he could train at the nearby Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range.
Missing out on his mother’s cooking has been a bigger sacrifice than giving up on games on his mobile.
“As a coach, our job is to make him feel grounded. I make it a point to remind him that winning the Olympic quota is merely the start of his long journey. The path ahead is pretty long and we have to work on several areas,’’ says his rifle coach Deepak Kumar Dubey.
The shooting star has come a long way since starting out as a 12-year-old using wooden rifles at the neighbouring shooting range. Divyansh had no interest in the sport and merely joined the shooting classes with his sister to keep himself occupied in the evening. But within three months of his first shooting lessons, he started winning medals at the local tournament.
He had to upgrade his weapon, and rifle shooting became more of an obsession rather than a mere pastime in the evening. The big break came in 2017 when he won a clutch of medals at the nationals in the junior and youth categories. “I think the biggest transformation in Divyansh came when one of the youngsters from India, Hriday Hazarika, won a gold in the Junior World Championships last year. It motivated him to work harder and he became very serious about shooting,’’ recalls Dubey.
The hardwork paid off and in one of the domestic tournaments in Mumbai as Divyansh went on to shatter the world record. His score of 252.3 in the final was well above the world record tally of 251.2. He was also faring well in the selection trials for the seniors and soon broke into the national team. He failed to make it to the final of the World Cup in New Delhi but finished above the likes of experienced Deepak Kumar and Ravi Kumar.
Though Divyansh has earned a Olympic quota place for India, it is up to the selectors to pick a shooter of their choice to represent the country in the Olympics. This means the class XII student will need to continue reeling off good scores in the forthcoming tournaments like the Rio World Cup, Asian Championship and the nationals to stave off challenges from other shooters.
From Saurabh Chaudhary to Manu Bhaker, India’s young shooting stars have lit up the Indian sporting skyline. Divyansh Panwar is the latest teenage shooting star to shine brightly.
(The author is a television producer working with different sports networks in India and abroad. He has extensively covered previous editions of Asian Games and Commonwealth Games for both print and television.)
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