Hectic activity since last year, a few rewards and new hope have propelled India's top shooter Anjali Bhagwat to set her sights on Olympic gold medals in the air rifle and three positions events.
The sharp-shooter started working towards achieving the self-set goals ever since she became the first Indian to earn the 'Olympic quota' last year, which has been the most productive in her career so far.
The year also saw her being ranked on top in the world in the air rifle by the International Shooting Federation in June.
Anjali's credentials to sport Olympic medals are enormous. The 34-year-old Central Industrial Security Force employee has acquired her berth for the Athens Olympics, along with compatriots Abhinav Bindra (Air Rifle) and Maj R S Rathore, in trap events.
In an intensely competitive world of shooting, Anjali expressed confidence of going for a double crown, not wanting to miss out the opportunity in 'three positions'.
Like every champion, she thrives on pressure during training sessions and competitions and has a clear idea about the benefits of being under pressure.
"Pressure is a great thing. You can never have a top performance without any pressure and hard work. It is absolutely necessary. It has to be the right amount and too much is bad and too little is bad too," Anjali said in an exclusive interview.
Moreover, a series of competitions including the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad last month and systematic training for about a fortnight with Stanislav Lapitaus, the world renowned Kazak coach, at Mhow, have helped Anjali develop the right strategy for the Olympics next year.
"My confidence levels have increased after my training sessions with Lapitaus. He is very systematic and his assessment of individual requirements of shooters has been excellent. He has coached Olympic gold medal winners of his country and is presently coaching the Indian army shooters," Anjali said adding "he does not want any remuneration for coaching me".
Anjali said, "It is not the training aspect of Lapitaus alone that had helped me decide the right strategy. He is so meticulous about everything I do. He has also suggested the events that I should compete in."
They are more interested in our winning medals but Lapitaus gives more credence to aspects like proper planning and preparation for participation and insists on a break at the right time," said Anjali, who qualified for Olympics with a silver in the World Championship in Sydney.
There were instances of her not willing to compete in certain events being misconstrued, forcing he to revise plans, she said.
Lapitaus has also suggested minor but effective adjustments to her 'pulling of the trigger' besides other aspects.
"I have learnt from Lapitaus as to how I should be focussed and how my hand (finger) should be pulling the trigger and the body and mind combinations. All these were a sort of rehabilitation course for me," Anjali said.
Lapitaus does not want her to change anything in airrifle though. "I had trained under him for air rifle three positions. I used to hold the trigger rather lightly and was not giving much thrust to my palm muscles. He has changed my grip and taught me to apply required pressure on my palm muscles and then shoot the target, besides butt placements on my shoulder. They are very useful and I have put them to practice already," she said.
"Certain things will look silly to some, but Lapitaus insists that I must eat raw onions after I drink water. He says I must eat raw onions even after I drink mineral water, since it (onion) is antiseptic. I found that there is some sense in it after I started doing it. He also improved upon my system of practicing yoga. I used to practice yoga daily with his wife," she said.
She had experienced certain difficulties in scoring more points during competitions in 'kneeling positions' and tried to iron out the weakness through scientific training under Lapitaus, said Anjali who trains from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm with a break in between and then practices the air rifle session for an hour daily.
As for her training schedule running up to the Olympics, Anjali said, "I have asked for permission from the authorities concerned in the government to train under Lapitaus till the Games and the Army has promised to provide it. Now I need to give a proposal to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in this regard. I am hopeful SAI will also help me in this."
She pointed out that she has already started training and has successfully found a balance between air rifle and three positions.
"I will start giving performances next year, commencing from the World Cup. In between I have to compete in domestic nationals because it is vital for my employers (CISF)," she said.
In a nutshell, Anjali, the most promising Olympic medal prospect for India, said, "Lapitaus foresees the objectives that can be achieved in a given period; chooses the means for implementation and for action in technical, physical and tactical areas. He decides on the choice of exercises and the appropriate load for specific training objectives like for prone, kneeling and standing positions."
Listing out the events that she will be competing in before the Olympics, Anjali said she would not be entering in air rifle section in the Asian Shooting Championship in Kuala Lumper (Feb 8 to 18, 2004), to enable other Indian shooters obtain the Olympic quota.
The Asian championship provides the last opportunity for shooters in the continent to achieve the berth.
She said her run-up to Olympics would start with the three World Cups (Feb 19 to 27 - Bangkok, Feb 28 to Mar 7 -Sydney and April 4 to 19 - Italy) and the pre-Olympics from April 20 to May 1 in Athens.