A familiar voice called out from the spectators’ gallery.
It belonged to shooting prodigy Saurabh Chaudhary, who was cheering the finalists of men’s 10m air pistol event at Goa’s Shooting Ranges in Mapusa during the 37th National Games held in November.
It was, however, surprising to see the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games champion in men’s 10m air pistol missing the final and cheering from the gallery instead.
With the 2024 Paris Olympic Games around the corner, the young pistol shooter from Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat, just 50 km from Delhi, faces the herculean task of cementing his place in the national squad since his performance has been below-par over the last two years.
Chaudhary was seventh in 10m air pistol in national rankings at the end of October. The National Championships in Bhopal, which concluded recently, was a good chance for him to showcase potential. But he couldn’t make it to the final and ended at 145th rank.
The 21-year-old shooter has been part of Delhi’s National Centre of Excellence (NCOE) since 2022 and practices at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Ranges.
Chaudhary was unimpressive in the qualification round at the National Games. He finished 23rd with an ordinary score of 557 out of possible 600. Only the top eight shooters advance to final.
Between 2017 to 2020, the teenage pistol shooter had earned the tag of “invincible” in the men’s 10m air pistol at the domestic level. He excelled at the continental and world level too and was considered having potential to win a medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games held in Japan in 2021.
However, he couldn’t live up to his potential at the Olympics. These days he is a shadow of his past.
The promising shooter advanced to the final at the Tokyo Olympic Games but wilted under pressure to finish outside the medal bracket.
Failing to live up to his potential at the Olympic Games in 2021 hurt him badly, and it subsequently impacted his performance.
The decline began at a rapid rate. From elite class, where he repeatedly shot world class scores of 580 and above, his performance became average at the ranges. He wasn’t consistent and didn’t show the same spark that gave him the tag of “invincible” prior to the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Chaudhary was expected to represent India at the recently concluded Hangzhou Asian Games. But he failed to qualify! In fact, he has been inconsistent and struggling to find his golden touch.
“My time will come,” Chaudhary claimed. “I will certainly bounce back as there is no age bar in target shooting. I am only 21 years old.”
Chaudhary said he was working on trigger and picture sighting techniques, which was the main reason for not being successful at the shooting ranges.
“I’m experimenting with certain things (trigger and picture sighting). But I can’t say how long it will take for me to regain my old form,” was Chaudhary’s response when asked about his current form.
Smooth triggering is one of the fundamentals in all target shooting events to improve scores.
It is enigmatic that a shooter who repeatedly shot over 580 out of possible 600 in qualification and was highly successful in finals during 2017 to 2020 has lost his touch.
Off the field he was considered an introvert. After being successful at the World Cup held in Delhi in 2019, during the media interaction “Chaudhary was a shooter of few words”.
He has matured; willing to speak and explain his part of the story. After finishing a disappointing 23rd at the National Games, the 21-year-old Olympian said he tried his best. But he was still unable to make cut for the final. “It will take time for me to be more competitive,” was his response.
Chaudhary refused to acknowledge that he is going through a dry patch. But it is intriguing that he is taking a long time to make a comeback and regain the lost ground.
“There are good and bad days. My good days will come again. It is taking time but I surely will take the driver’s seat again,” he added.