As with everything else in life, the 2020 Olympic Games — delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to be held in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8 — will be different.
For one, fans will not be allowed in the stadiums and arenas since the Japanese government has put the capital under a state of emergency due to a spike in coronavirus infections. In addition, the athletes won't be allowed to leave the Olympic Village except to train and compete, take daily coronavirus tests, and be subject to several other measures.
For India, it will be an opportunity to find and bring some much-needed, long-lost joy and pride to a country among the worst affected by the pandemic and ease the pain of the past few months. India is sending its largest-ever contingent at the Olympic Games and will be resting its hopes on the 126 athletes, who will be participating in 18 disciplines.
While there are many names to watch for in various disciplines -- Vinesh Phogat, Manika Batra, PV Sindhu, Deepika Kumari, Mary Kom, Sajan Prakash -- the spotlight will be on one 19-year-old marksman, Saurabh Chaudhary. He will be competing in two events -- men's 10m air pistol and mixed 10m air pistol alongside Manu Bhaker, 19, another top prospect for India, who has nine gold medals to her name in several ISSF World Cup events.
Chaudhary, who started shooting at the age of 13 in 2015, has already won 14 gold and six silver medals in international competitions. However, his journey wasn't easy. The shooter from Kalina village in Meerut used to cycle 12kms daily to the shooting range in Benoli village.
"(He) used to be there before 7 am. While everyone else used to pack up by 10:30 am, Saurabh would continue his training under the scorching sun till 1 pm," his coach Amit Sheoran was quoted as saying by IANS.
All his hard work paid off, and he had a perfect start to his junior career, winning five gold medals in 2018 — one each at the Youth Olympic Games and Junior World Championships and three at the Junior World Cup.
He then started his senior career with a bang, winning a gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games, becoming the youngest Indian gold medalist at the Asian Games. He continued his top form in 2019, his first full year as a senior-level shooter, winning a gold medal at the ISSF World Cup in Delhi, where he smashed the world record with a score of 245.0 and qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Chaudhary won another individual gold and four mixed team gold medals with Bhaker at the ISSF World Cup in Munich in May.
With 2020 came the pandemic, which meant the cancellation of events worldwide. However, that did not deter Chaudhary, who resumed where he left off with the coming of 2021. A gold medal in the men's team followed by another gold in the mixed team with Bhaker took his tally of gold medals in ISSF World Cup events to eight.
All those who know Chaudhary or have seen him in action believe that his focus and determination is what sets him apart. "Chaudhary has a passion I've not seen in any youth I've trained all these years," Sheoran said. Amit Bhattacharjee, who mentored Abhinav Bindra, India's only individual Olympic gold medalist, in five Olympic games, feels Chaudhary is a good bet because of his temperament and concentration skills which he feels is better than his teammates, reported The Times of India. His teammate Apurvi Chandela also feels Chaudhary is extremely focused and has a great future ahead, reported Time Magazine.
Well, if Chaudhary appears calm, collected and determined, it's because he puts some effort into it. He credits yoga and meditation as his way to remain focused and grounded, as he told Prime Minister Narendra Modi last Tuesday during the prime minister's virtual interaction with the Indian athletes heading for Tokyo.
And it's not just Indians who are going gaga over Chaudhary. Time Magazine recently named him among 48 global athletes to watch out for at the Olympics. He was the only Indian, and more importantly, the only international shooter to have made the list. While his skills require no validation, to be named among greats such as gymnast Simone Biles, sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge, and others is a feat in itself.
Ranked number two in the world, Chaudhary will be appearing in his first-ever Olympic Games. He is expected to win gold medals both in the individual and mixed team disciplines along with Bhaker.
Come Saturday, July 24, when the men's 10m air pistol rifle will take place, and the 19-year old takes aim, a billion eyes will be glued to the television, with prayers on their lips and hope in their hearts.
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