Babu Gaonkar, 28, had not even heard of Modern Pentathlon a couple of months ago and had never fired a gun even at a village fair till June when the Goa association held a selection trial to pick the team for the 37th National Games.
Fast-forward to the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially inaugurated the National Games in this coastal state, Gaonkar gave the entire state something to cheer for by bagging the men's Laser Run gold medal with a timing of 12:26.27 sec and then combining with Sita Gosavi to win a silver medal in mixed relay here on Thursday.
Modern Pentathlon is one of several sports being introduced for the first time at the 37th National Games Goa 2023. Consisting of five separate disciplines, the event was kickstarted by the Laser Run competition, wherein athletes have to complete 5 laps of 600m and pause to shoot at the target from a distance of 10m at the end of each lap. The final score combines the athlete's lap times and shooting accuracy.
"Competing in my home state gave me a lot of confidence as I was receiving great support from the audience present. I wanted to perform well here because it is prestigious for Goa to host such a big tournament," said Gaonkar, who hails from Netravali village in Sanguem, and had to travel 40km every day to Margaon for training.
A son of a tractor mechanic and housewife mother, Gaonkar had been excelling in marathons and cross-country races since the age of 13.
Explaining how he ended up competing in Modern Pentathlon, he said "I had never picked up a gun in my life until 45 days ago. It was only when I met my coach Nilesh (Naik) sir and Kirtan (Vaiz) sir at the trials in June that I learned about Modern Pentathlon and Laser-Run.
"I could never have been able to afford purchasing a gun" - Babu Gaonkar
"I could never have been able to afford purchasing a gun for my training as it is very expensive. Fortunately, my coaches and the Goa Modern Pentathlon Association identified my talent and provided me all the support for me to achieve this medal," said Gaonkar, who immediately received a call from the chief minister Pramod Sawant after his triumph.
Naik, who is also the Nodal Officer at the Goa Modern Pentathlon Association was all praise for Gaonkar, "We could see that Babu is blessed with talent when we scouted him at the trials conducted in the talukas across Goa in June. He was the first athlete ever for whom the Association purchased a gun - which costs over 2.5 lakh rupees - so he could train."
"I am extremely proud of Babu's performance and very happy for his success today. He belongs to one of the most remote areas in Goa and has to travel over 40km every day to reach our training centre in Margaon, yet he has never missed a single day of training," he added.