When you are in the trenches and nothing seems to be going your way, that is when your true mettle is tested. You either rise from the ashes or fall into the abyss. Young prodigy shooter Tilottama Sen found herself in one such a situation at her first ever senior Shooting World Cup.
Turning failure into success
Not that she hasn't experienced a last minute crisis before. At her first international meet, when her rifle malfunctioned, she ended up tanking the competition. 'Once bitten, twice shy' and this time at her maiden World Cup when all hell broke loose, Tilottama found herself standing on the podium moments later.
A week later, she is back in India, reflecting on the gargantuan achievement she made from the clutches of defeat. Speaking to ESPN the young shooter described what went wrong moments before her shoot.
"The cheek piece on the rifle had broken [in transit] and the screws in the butt piece (which go into the shoulder of the shooter) had come loose. I was training before [the event started], and I knew there was something wrong with my settings. I was not able to understand what I should change. Then my mixed match happened [that's when she identified and started fixing the problem]. Then we had another hour of training, and that's when I finally set it."
Shen then went into her own zone, where nothing much could affect her concentration. All elite shooters are trained to block their mind and focus on the bullseye.
"There's nothing running in our mind while we shoot," she says. Just some "positive self-talk" in between shots. By the end, she finished just 0.1 away from a gold medal match.
"I think I managed it really well," No false modesty, no arrogance just a statement of fact.
Train them when young
The prodigious nature of Tilottama is evident from the fact that she started shooting at the age of 11, and three years later, she already has a podium finish at the World Cup.
It was during lockdown that the 11-year-old picked up a rifle for the first time. Her father didn't want her to waste her time playing video games and watching television. Tilottama, who hails from Nagaland, has her father to thank for choosing shooting as a sport. Living in Nagaland, her father was fascinated by the gun culture that prevails in the state.
She had only ever picked up any kind of gun once before. It was during a balloon-popping competition at a family event.
"In my first six months, I was still not serious about the sport. I used to go, I used to come back," she says with a shrug. "But then I got my first kit, then I moved onto a better [range] rifle. Slowly, slowly I saw the improvement."
It was only after she won her first competitive match that she decided to take the sport seriously.
At this point, her father, Sujit, decided to invest in his daughter's equipment. Working at Tech Mahindra. Sujit withdrew his provident fund and retirement savings to purchase a new rifle worth ₹ 2.65 lakhs. Her scores almost immediately shot up with the upgrade to the tool.
In her first state meet in 2021, she shot 396 out of 4000. Then she shot 398 in the pre-national south meet. The Karnataka association then conducted another state meet that same year. That's where she shot 400/400.
Her meteoric rise has not been without obstacles, however she has has ploughed forward and found herself alongside some of India's elite athletes at a very young age.
For now, she's earned a month's rest before the heavy competitions kick in. The Bhopal World Cup, the World Championships in Baku (where Olympic quota places are available), and later the Asian Games in September. "And the ultimate aim.
Excerpts taken from ESPN
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