For Moudgil, Paris 2024 is a shot at redemption - Hindustan Times
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For Moudgil, Paris 2024 is a shot at redemption

ByRutvick Mehta
May 17, 2024 08:59 PM IST

A run of poor form left her 'broken' but the 30-year-old has left a turbulent year behind and is ready to shine again

Wiping away tears, turning her back and fighting to contain the outpour of emotions on a breezy Friday morning here, Anjum Moudgil broke down for the second time in seconds.

Indian shooter Anjum Moudgil in action (Getty)
Indian shooter Anjum Moudgil in action (Getty)

“Aisi hi halat thi (this was the situation),” she murmured.

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Standing beside her, Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar, her good friend and fellow 50m rifle 3 positions shooter, lent a helping hand. "Arre bas, itna kya load lena? Hog gaya abhi (Why think about it so much now? It’s done),” he said.

It was done indeed. Anjum’s purpose from the Olympic selection trials, leaving behind a turbulent last year, was met. She emerged among the top two in the women's 50m rifle 3 positions during the four-stage selection trials for the Paris Games, a result that should give the experienced shooter a ticket to compete alongside the fast-rising Sift Kaur Samra in the event come the Olympics in July-August (NRAI will announce the final squad after a meeting post the trials).

That would mean having a shot at redemption for the Tokyo Olympian from the debacle of 2021 and the despondency of 2023 that left her a “broken” shooter and person.

Almost every Indian shooter at Tokyo battled with its extended after-effects. For Anjum, however, brighter days soon came about. She won two individual World Cup medals in 2022 (silver in Baku and bronze in Changwon), scaled the No. 1 ranking in 50m rifle 3 positions in July and clinched silver at the World Cup Final in Cairo. Then those dark clouds intensified again. A string of poor World Cup outings — 17th in Bhopal, 20th in Baku, 27th in Cairo — dragged Anjum out of the team for last year's Asian Games as well as the World Championships and drowned her to rock bottom.

“In my mind, the Asian Games was a given had it been held on time. But because of Covid, it got postponed. And then I wasn't part of the team," Anjum said. “When something like this happens, when you have such a great chance but end up not getting one, either an athlete breaks... which I did.”

In what ways?

“It just breaks your confidence," Anjum, breaking down emotionally this time, said. "And..." the sentence got swept away in her tears.

As did another one. "It is extremely difficult," she would try to convey, only for her overpowering emotions to again take over.

Through a lengthy career that has witnessed celebratory highs and crushing lows (at both the 2018 Asian Games and Tokyo Olympics, she couldn’t make the finals), Anjum has had tears for company on several occasions. She recalled being watery-eyed even when Aishwary, who also secured a top-two finish at these trials and a Paris berth, could not secure a quota at the Worlds. "I told him, ‘Aish, I know aapko kaisa lag raha hoga (I know how you must be feeling). Just cry, don't stop yourself. It’s very important,” Anjum said.

And so, as she gathered herself after letting those tears flow, Anjum spoke about drawing a clean slate as a starting point in picking up the pieces.

“It was about going back to the basics. And having the right people around me," she said, mentioning her husband Ankush and Aishwary. "I just started from the beginning, forgetting whatever had happened.”

That process comprised taking some time off and going completely solo in training. Anjum spent plenty of time in Budapest training all by herself, and competed alone without the company of coaches at the World Cup in Rio.

“Staying alone made me understand what I can do, because on the lane there is no one who can help you. It's just you and your mind," she said. "So that was the best thing to have happened to me. Figuring things out yourself was something that was required post Tokyo. I had one year to work on myself and make a comeback.”

Anjum eagerly awaited the trials. A modest start in the first round in New Delhi (she was third with a score of 581) made things tougher for her, especially being a non-quota holder. But a strong surge thereafter — she topped the second and third rounds (589 and 592 respectively) before capping off the final round here on Friday with a second-placed finish at 588 — meant Anjum did complete the comeback circle she craved.

“The first one (round) was bad, but my training and preparation was so good that I didn't really accept the bad score. I tried not to waste too much energy on it and focussed on giving my best for the next three," she said.

“After Tokyo, hum dono ko itni zyada aag lagi thi jaane ki (After Tokyo, we both had greater fire to go to Paris),” Anjum said, looking at Aishwary. “That’s the only thing that kept me going.”

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