India's Divyansh Singh Panwar is the current world No. 1 in men's 10-metre air rifle (Instagram Photo)
NEW DELHI: The Indian
team sat to the left of the dais. With face-masks on, it's a real task to recognize people these days. So the journalists started spotting the athletes.
"That's Manu Bhaker, there's Sanjeev Rajput, Mairaj is second from right in the back row, that's Saurabh sitting next to Abhishek." But most stopped guessing as their eyes reached a shooter with a man bun. It was like the shooter took a Zlatan Ibrahimovic picture to his hair-stylist and said - "this is what I want".
A confident voice from among the seated media had no doubts who the shooter with the man bun was. "That's our world number one in men's 10m
Divyansh Singh Panwar
," said the voice from the back of the room at the new athletes' hostel inside the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting range (DKSSR) campus.
The players, media and National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) officials had gathered on Wednesday for the curtain-raiser press conference for the March 18-29
shooting World Cup
in Delhi. Before it began, Panwar's hair-style had already grabbed everyone's attention.
"Mann tha badane ka...pehle time mila nahi [I always wanted to grow my locks, didn't get time before]," said Panwar, as he sat down after the press conference to talk to the media.
Divyansh is by nature a shy man who likes to talk very little - Instagram Photo
"It's not modeled on anyone, just by my own choice," he replied at the mention that his hair-style reminded people of Ibrahimovic.
Panwar wants to land at the Tokyo Olympics sporting this look.
"I will get it trimmed after the Olympics," Panwar said on being quizzed further. "Nothing to do with any superstition, just that I wanted to. School mei to allow nahi karte the [long hair were never allowed in school]," said the 18-year-old shooter, who became the world No. 1 in men's 10m air rifle when the rankings were updated in April last year.
Divyansh was in the grip of Covid-19 last year, when he tested positive upon returning for the national camp post the Diwali break. But he has moved on from that horror memory and only wants to talk about positive things now.
"Thoda sa tall hua hu [I have grown a little taller], but I didn't like that," the shooter from Jaipur said. The obvious next question was "why?"
"My position is such that I back-bend a little more. So I am both happy and sad about it [gaining height]. It hasn't disturbed my practice...but I won't be able to manage this position [for long] if I don't work out, so that's essential," Panwar replied.
His shooting suit too must have become unusable with longer arms and legs now.
"Every 4-5 months we get a new costume made anyways, because it's stiffness doesn't remain for long, and we need good stiffness in that," he said.
"I haven't changed anything technically [after gaining height]. There's just a minute difference in standing position, but that's a very minor thing.
Divyansh took to shooting as a 13-year-old kid - Instagram Photo
'LIFE WENT BLANK'
The screeching halt that COVID-19 forced everything to come to last year had hit Panwar badly, before coach Deepak Kumar Dubey helped him gather himself. In 2017, Divyansh's father Ashok Panwar had sent his son to Delhi to train under Dubey.
The teenage champion said it helped to be around his coach, especially after he got stuck in Delhi during the lockdown and couldn't even travel home.
Beech mein [during lockdown] jab practice bilkul nahi mil rahi thi tab confidence low ho gaya tha [with no practice during lockdown, my confidence took a hit]," said Panwar, who grabbed an Olympic quota with his silver medal at the 2019 Beijing World Cup.
"Nothing was happening, I couldn't return home as well. My coach was with me. The lockdown happened at once, so both of us couldn't go home.
"For the first 10 -15 days [of lockdown], the mental status was also low. News was coming in that nothing will happen now. We resumed training a month later. But for a month before that, there was no confidence. I was clueless about what to do. Life went blank."
Coach Deepak Kumar Dubey, right, turned his flat in Faridabad into a make-shift shooting range for Divyansh during lockdown - AFP Photo
'KUCHH TO ACHHA HOGA' (SOMETHING GOOD WILL HAPPEN)
ISSF World Cup
in Delhi was Panwar's first at the senior level. So this time it will be his second World Cup on home soil.
But the rifleman assures things have changed in two years. It shows in the confidence Panwar has developed in his voice, and the stories he is able to narrate, which was missing before in his media interactions that he always wanted to keep short.
"I had no experience [in 2019], naya naya shooter tha ek tareeke se, zyada hi kuchh nervous tha at that time. Thoda sa family pressure bhi hota hai, ke pata nahi kaisa karega [I was a rookie shooter in 2019, overtly nervous. There is also family pressure, about how well I would do]," he said.
"But now there's nothing of that sort. They [family] also trust me more now. I also think ke itni training kar raha hu to kuchh to achha hoga hi [something good will happen as I am training so hard]."
Stepping into adulthood as an 18-year-old, Panwar can afford a laugh comparing the current time to when he held a rifle for the first time while entering his teens.
"I was 13 when I started shooting. Pehle to bas mann kiya to range chale gaye, nahi to nahi gaye [I would go to range if I felt like it, otherwise not]. Now the schedule is fixed."
And he went on to elaborate, especially expressing happiness over the availability of a mental trainer.
Divynash with shooting legend Abhinav Bindra - Instagram Photo
"I am with my coach, Deepak sir. So morning at 6 o' çlock there is yoga and meditation. The evening workout is different, with OGQ [Olympic Gold Quest], and the team. Now there is a mental trainer as well. That helps too. I don't think without that one can perform well in shooting. But everybody contributes, whether it's the mental coach, gym trainer, coach.
"Earlier I didn't have these facilities, so it wasn't that good. As I am getting these facilities, it is helping me perform better," said Panwar.
CONSISTENT INNER 10s
Panwar's consistency is something that has stood out over the last 2-3 years.
Apart from winning the junior and youth titles in the Nationals since 2017, he displayed his control and precision internationally as well, with a silver medal in 2018 at the Asian Junior Championships in Kuwait, a gold at the Asian Shooting Championships in China and another gold at the Junior World Cup in Suhl.
His gold at the 2019 World Cup in Putian became a stepping stone and the silver that fetched India an Olympic quota in Beijing added to Panwar's confident shooting.
"I think it's because of all these [various coaching] that I have been able to maintain my consistency. Uske bina kahan kuch ho pata hai [it can't happen without that].
THE GUITARIST AND THE PET LOVER
Being a mental game, shooting can become very stressful, which makes it critical to be passionate about something else, maybe a hobby, away from the firing point.
Panwar, who has started playing the guitar, agrees.
"Outside shooting, I play the guitar. If I were to rate myself on a scale of 1 to 10, I would say three. Basically I sing a little with chords. Old songs only, I don't like the new ones," Panwar said with a smile.
And there is 'Klaus' as well at home, Panwar's pet dog.
Diyansh says spending time with his pet dog calms him down - Instagram Photo
"I have a dog as a pet - named Klaus, which is a German name. I spend a lot of time with my dog. It lifts me if I am feeling down."
ONLY TECHNIQUE MATTERS
Postponement of the Olympics last year came as a jolt to athletes world over. In case of India, the shooting team was primed for a possible historic medal haul at the Games.
Panwar said it was both good and bad.
"Let's talk about bad first. Bad was that it [Olympics] got postponed. We were practising very well. The good part was we got another year to prepare. Jitna score tab lagta tha, uss se ek point aur extra maarenge [will score a point more than what I was scoring last year]," said Panwar.
"Scores ka up down chalta rehta hai kabhi kabhi training mei [scores keep going up and down in training]...What satisfies me the most is following the technique completely. Whatever my coach has taught me until now, If I follow that, I am satisfied, whether I achieve a good score or not.
"That's what happens with us in practice as well, daily. Chahe score lage ya na lage, jab tak khud se satisfied nahi hote [technique-wise], tab tak dimag ghoomta rehta hai [whether we get a good score or not, until we are satisfied ourselves, the mind is not settled]."
Divyansh has held the world No. 1 position in 10m air rifle since April last year - TOI Photo
The World Cup in Delhi will also double up as the selection ground for NRAI to pick the team for Olympics. In shooting, athletes win the quota but who gets to go for the tournament depends on the federation, as it selects shooters for each of the quota places.
Panwar admitted that such things do bring with them some amount of pressure.
"Thoda sa to nervousness rehta hi hai, jab competition nazdeek aa jaate hain, that I have to retain my place in the team, Olympic mei selection hogi ya nahi [there is some nervousness as a competition nears, things like will I be selected for the Olympics]. Those thoughts keep coming. It can affect you in a match, your scores," the 18 year old rifle shooter further said.
"It's a mental game."