With two consecutive title victories, shooter Zeena Khitta eyes place in senior team

Nitin Sharma

Shooter Zeena Khitta after winning the gold medal in Khelo India Youth Game. Jasbir Malhi

Earlier this month, after Himachal Pradesh shooter 18-year-old Zeena Khitta claimed the title in the 10m Air Rifle event at Khelo India Youth Games in Guwahati, the DAV College student spent time in Chandigarh before returning to Mumbai to train under coach Suma Shirur.

Last year, Khitta became the women’s national champion in 10m Air Rifle in the National Shooting Championship at Bhopal, she had edged out two-time world champion Apurvi Chandela and Mehuli Ghosh. This year, the youngster is eyeing a spot in the Indian senior shooting team and will also compete in its selection trials later this month.

“I had won gold medal in junior category in the first edition of Khelo India Games and to win the title earlier this month has set the tone for me for the current year. To become the national champion in the nationals last year was a special moment in my career and I want to carry on the fine form this year too. My first target is next week’s selection trials and I hope I can shoot well consistently to make it to the Indian senior team this year. Apart from that, my target will also be to make it to the Indian junior teams and win a medal for the country in the ISSF Junior World Cup later this year,” shared Khitta, who is a student of BA first year at DAV College, Chandigarh.

While Zeena’s father, Prithvi Raj Khitta, is an apple farmer at Rohru, the Khitta family has had their love for guns for long. Prithvi Raj and his father Surat Ram Khitta have owned several rifles for countering wild animals’ attacks on their farm. However, it was on the insistence of the national shooter and coach Virender Singh Banshtu that a young Zeena took up shooting in 2015.

Four months after she started shooting, the youngster finished 133rd out of more than 230 shooters with a score of 387 in the 10m Air rifle youth women event in the 2015 National Shooting Championship in New Delhi. The following year would see Zeena finish 39th in the civilian junior category, apart from a 34th spot in the youth category in the National Shooting Championship in Pune. The youngster won her first national medal when she pocketed the bronze medal in 10m Air rifle junior event with a score of 224.8, to finish behind Ghosh and Elavenil Valvarian at the national’s finals in Thiruvanathapuram in 2017.

In 2018, the Himachal Pradesh shooter made it to her first senior final in the nationals, with a sixth-place finish, where Anjum Moudgill won the gold apart from winning a bronze in the youth category. “My grandfather is very fond of shooting and it was due to him that I wanted to be a shooter. Training at the eight-lane range at Aradhana Public School under Banshtu sir would also mean that sometimes we would train in cold conditions with snow surrounding the range. Winning bronze medal in the junior category in the nationals in 2017 boosted my confidence and reaching my first senior final in the nationals in 2018 made me believe that I can improve further and win a medal in nationals, a feat which I achieved last year,” remembers Khitta.

Her mentor and coach Varinder Singh Banshtu believes that Zeena’s focus on her fitness has helped her a lot in the recent years and the nationals title and Khelo India title will only motivate her to improve further. Last year, Khitta was also part of the Indian youth team which won the bronze medal in Asian Shooting Championships at Doha. “Zeena was a bit bulky when she started and I had to work on her fitness too. The excercises included light running inside the range, when it snowed outside in winters. Initially, her scores were low and she finished out of the top 100 in the first two nationals. However, she always ask me about resuming training the day she arrived after nationals. Her biggest strength has been her fearlessness and it has made our task as coaches easier, to make some adjustments in her technique,” say Banshtu.

Since the last one year, the shooter has been training under coach Suma Shirur at Lakshya Shooting Club in Mumbai. Shirur, the high performance specialist coach of the Indian junior shooting team, rates the youngster highly. “When I first saw Zeena, I was impressed by the talent she had and even though we knew that we have to work on her technique and other things, I knew that she has it in her to win medals. We worked on her standing position and the shooting kit, and it took us more than six months to achieve the required results. Her strength has been her temperament and I see her evolving as a consistent shooter for India,” says Shirur.

As for Zeena, she admires shooters like the 2020 Olympic quota winners, Anjum Moudgil of Chandigarh and Apurvi Chandela. “I observe their shooting and observe their technique, but I am shy to approach them as they are senior shooters. Though, they have not made me felt like that ever. It is good to compete with them and it also makes me learn a lot,” says Khitta.