After a Snub in 2016, Sanjeev Rajput Books an Olympic Berth
The silver medal in Rio on Friday, 29 August, means the shooter is on course to take part in his third Olympics.
The vibrant nightlife of Rio has picked up pace. The Samba party is fully on. The setting is perfect for heady celebrations for Sanjeev Rajput who just a few hours ago bagged an Olympic quota in the three-position rifle event by claiming a silver in the World Cup.
But he prefers a quiet dinner at the team hotel and then retires to his room – shunning any revelry.
It is this stoic demeanour and the ability to shut himself from the world outside that has made Rajput one of the most successful rifle shooters.
“I had come to Rio, very confident of getting a quota place for the Olympics. I did not want to keep my Olympic hopes dangling till the last qualifying event. That is why it was very important for me to do well in this World Cup,” says Rajput in an exclusive interview with The Quint.
The Rio World Cup is the penultimate event to seal the Olympic slots before the Asian Championship in Doha in November. Before Rajput, seven shooters from India had already assured their places in Tokyo.
Rajput was on course for a gold medal till his last shot in the final. Peter Gorsa of Serbia who was trailing by 1 point hit a scored a 10 to finish at 462.2. The Indian had a momentary lapse of concentration and shot just 8.8 to finish at 462.0 (0.2 points behind the winner).
“I was undone by the cheer from the crowd behind me and I lost focus.”Sanjeev Rajput
There were some nervous moments for him during the qualification round when one of his shots showed a ‘no-score’ because of a system malfunction. After protests, he was allowed an extra shot.
The silver medal in Rio on Friday, 29 August, means the shooter is on course to take part in his third Olympics. He had also booked his place in the Olympics in the last edition but the National Rifle Association of India decided to drop him and replaced him with Manavjit Singh, a trap shooter in the Olympic contingent.
A distraught Rajput had considered quitting the sport but was eventually persuaded to make a comeback.
Rape Allegations Against Rajput
“I want to forget that unsavoury past. I do not want these negative thoughts to clutter my mind. Therefore, when I was preparing for my Olympics this time, I made a conscious decision to forget the incident.’’
A few months after the Olympics setback, Rajput was accused of rape in 2016 – an allegation that he has denied. The case is currently sub judice.
Rajput was suspended by the Sports Authority of India (SAI), and ordered not to leave the country. However, he ignored his employer’s diktat; he was keen to take part in a couple of tournaments abroad, for which he was selected. As a consequence, Rajput was fired from his job; and continues to be without one today.
“There is a lot of pressure on me as I have to also look after my ageing parents. Thankfully, my pension from my previous employers – the Navy and funding through TOPS – Target Olympic Podium Scheme – help me with my training,” says Rajput, adding,
“I have no experience in any other profession. I cannot be a banker or a teacher in school. Since I am a sportsperson, I have dedicated every day of my life to become a better shooter.”
Son of a street food vendor in Haryana, Rajput joined the Navy as an 18-year-old after completing his Class 12. He did not have any formal training in shooting but developed a fondness for the sport fiddling with different weapons. Felix Thomas, a shooting coach with the Navy, first spotted him in Odisha.
“Despite no prior experience, he had the perfect temperament to be a good shooter. He was god-gifted with his technique and within a short time, he was winning medals in the domestic circuit,’’ recounts Thomas.
There was no stopping Rajput as he emerged as one of India’s most consistent shooters in the three position rifle discipline.
In 2014, Rajput decided to quit the Navy after he was offered a job in Haryana Police. But a change of state government at this point of time meant all previous job appointments were scrapped.
Joydeep Karmakar, a former international shooter who finished fourth at the London Olympics and is currently a coach, is a close friend of Rajput.
“...he has never given up or allowed his performance in the shooting range to dip. In fact, he has been winning medals regularly – be it the gold at the Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games silver and now the World Cup. He has truly got the nerves of steel.’’
In the Indian shooting team, teeming with young teenage players, the 38-year-old is often the odd man out. “At times it is tough to match the enthusiasm of these youngsters but I enjoy interacting with them as it makes me feel young.’’
The 2020 Olympics could well be the last one for Rajput, and the veteran is determined to sign off on a high.
(The author is a television producer working with different sports networks in India and abroad. He has extensively covered previous editions of Asian Games and Commonwealth Games for both print and television.)
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