Vijay Kumar has won himself an early birthday present
Vijay Kumar's silver in the 25m Rapid Fire pistol event at the London Olympics came in as a bolt from the blue.
Considering the focus was on the likes of Abhinav Bindra and Ronjan Sodhi, this subedar in the Indian Army never made the headlines.
He was part of the shooting contingent alright, but as just another member (not a deemed favourite), this despite the fact that he has a plethora of medals in his resume. He has clinched medals in major international competition – the Asian and Commonwealth Games – and has been one of the most consistent shooters in recent times.
The shooter from Himachal Pradesh albeit reveled being away from the media glare during the build-up to the Games. But his feat, considering India is a country starved off sporting success, ensured him instant fame. It also meant he could no longer avoid the hype and publicity.
To his credit Kumar is doing quite well in handling the newfound fame. Days short of his 27th birthday, the man from Harsour has got himself the best possible gift -- an Olympic medal.
In a freewheeling interview with Rediff.com's Bikash Mohapatra the ace shooter talks about his success, his future in the army and of course, his sport (shooting).
Congratulations, Vijay! How would you describe your success?
It's been a great journey so far.
I started shooting in 2003 and the last nine years have been very good.
I have won many medals in various international competitions and this Olympic silver is the biggest of them all.
Image: Vijay Kumar
'Winning the medal has helped me become a part of sporting history'
Many opine that being away from the limelight in the build up to the Games worked to your advantage. Your opinion on the same...
It's just what the media is saying. Everyone seems to be working out his own theory as to how I managed to win the medal. It has never bothered me. It doesn't bother me now. I just focused on what I had to do and I am happy that I managed to do it right.
It's not just I have won a medal for the first time. I have won medals in all the major international competitions before, be it the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships or the Asian Championships. I have performed well everywhere.
The media is just doing its job. This being the biggest competition they need to highlight someone. After my event was over, I was free. There were many interview requests, most of which I entertained and at the end of it all, they had dug out every little detail about Vijay Kumar (laughs).
How much does this medal mean to you?
You can judge it yourself. I have won medals at the Asian Games before. But only Asian countries participate there. I have won many times at the Commonwealth Games as well. But then again, we have only those countries that are part of the Commonwealth participating in it.
However, this is the biggest of them all. We have as many as 208 countries participating. So winning a medal at the Olympics is special. It is an extraordinary achievement.
I am not trying to say that I have done something special. But when I do analyse my performance I realise it has helped become part of a sporting history.
Photographs: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
'I am not entirely satisfied, but winning silver is also special'
How did you go about your event?
It was a tough event. I had prepared myself mentally for it though. My first target was to ensure qualification for the final. As you are aware in this event qualifying is in itself a difficult process as only six shooters make it to the final, unlike eight in the other categories.
Once I achieved that there was a gap of a couple of hours before the final and I used that time to regain my focus. I am happy that I could do what I had set out to.
You faced tough competition en route. When did you feel that a medal is a possibility?
Shooting is a difficult sport. You can't say who will win ahead of the competition. The shooters, who head into a tournament as favorites, are recognised for their past achievement and not because they are certain to win on that occasion.
I was definitely nervous. I was the youngest of the lot and it was my first Olympics. But on the positive side I had competed against all of them before, even if I had not won against each. My focus was on getting the technique right.
We hate to ask this but there would be regrets for missing out on the gold, especially having come this close...(interrupts)
At the Olympics, no gold means no satisfaction. So, of course I am not entirely satisfied. But as athletes we have to make ourselves understand. We have to brace ourselves for the next occasion and try and get it right again.However, winning the silver is also special. So I am happy with it.
Photographs: Harish Kotian/Rediff.com
'In shooting, luck is a huge factor'
There have been reports in certain sections of the media that you are keen to quit the army...
I am not quitting the army. In fact once I am back in India, I'll first resume duties and then make a formal application for leave.
But it is true that I am not happy with the facilities. For example, the awards and incentives announced seldom come on time. This can be changed for sure. But at the moment it is not very appealing. If things change I will continue. If they don't I'll have to start looking out for other options.
Shooting has won us medals in the last three Olympics. What is it that has made the Indian shooters so successful in recent times?
There are a lot of things going right for shooting. The federation is getting involved. The government is showing interest and doing the best it can. And the result is there for all to see. There's an improvement with each passing competition. When I was a youngster Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore's silver in Athens did inspire me a lot. For that matter Abhinav Bindra's gold in Beijing was also an inspiration. Tomorrow my medal win might inspire someone. So things have definitely improved and we are heading in the right direction as far as shooting is concerned.
Besides your silver, and Gagan Narang bronze, there were no more medals from shooting as expected. Are you disappointed?
I would say the performances of the shooters have been good, irrespective of the fact they won medals or not.
Joydeep Karmakar, for example, did remarkably well under pressure to finish fourth. And that, I think, is an achievement. Also in shooting, luck is a huge factor. Come to think of it, it took Gagan Narang three Olympics to win a bronze while I have won silver in my first.
So if we compare ourselves with the other sports, I would say the Indian shooters have done their best.
Photographs: Lars Baron/Getty Images
'We can expect six medals at most'
How many more medals do you see India winning at these Games?
In Beijing we had three medals overall. This time we already have four and we'll be placing our money on boxing and wrestling to add a couple more at least to the tally.
Now that Mary Kom is assured of a medal, I was expecting Vijender Singh to win, but now he is out. Sushil Kumar has a definite chance. Being realistic, I think we can expect six medals at most.
Finally, what are your plans for the immediate future?
For the last year and half I haven't been home. I was busy preparing for the Olympics. My body begs for rest and a couple of weeks of rest is definitely on the cards. Thereafter, I will get back to training and start preparing for the various national and international events.I also plan to settle down. I have done a lot in pursuit of excellence in this sport but in the process have neglected my personal life.
Photographs: Harish Kotian/Rediff.com