Coach showed faith in me, this medal is the most important, says Sanjeev Rajput

Sanjeev Rajput, a 37-year-old rifle shooter won silver for India in the 50 m Rifle 3 positions at Asian Games 2018.
To say that Sanjeev Rajput’s mind wasn’t completely on the task at hand going into the Asian Games would be an understatement. The 37-year-old rifle shooter, who won silver for India in the 50m Rifle 3 positions on Tuesday, has after all been in the midst of one of the most challenging phases of his life. Two years ago, Rajput had been accused of rape by a fellow shooter in Haryana, who filed an FIR against him. He was then subsequently sacked as Sports Authority of India (SAI) coach.

The former Indian Navy shooter though then went on to win gold at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, and was even added to the Haryana government’s cash award list. But the award wasn’t to be, with some officials pointing at the rape allegations being the reason for Rajput being denied.

On a day, he finished a comfortable second in the most gruelling of the shooting events, Rajput couldn’t help but look back at what he’s been through in the lead up to his second Asian Games silver medal. And how through it all, he never lost his focus.

“Whatever happened, I believe justice will prevail. Whatever proof I had, I submitted in the court. When I was informed about not getting the cash award, I was disappointed. It was not for myself but for my whole family. I wrote and talked to the officials in Haryana government about this but then I only thought about the Asian Games,” says Rajput.

He also speaks of the support he’s received from the “shooting circle”, and how it was they who brought him back to the shooting range.

“Foreign coach Oleg Mikhailov too showed faith in me and this medal is the most important of all my medals in Asian Games. I am happy that I could justify their faith in my shooting,” shares Rajput.

The Jagadhri shooter won the gold medal in the ISSF World Cup in Korea in 2011. He then added a silver at the 2014 CWG, and was assured a job of inspector by the Haryana government after that performance in Glasgow four years ago. Rajput got the appointment letter but apathy on part of the government meant that the shooter was not given the job.

He then won a silver medal at the ISSF World Cup in Baku in 2016. It was around this time that he was named in an FIR by a female shooter accusing him of rape. He was granted bail by the court, but Rajput’s shooting career had come to an abrupt halt. He returned after a three-month hiatus in December and finished fifth in the ISSF World Cup in Delhi. With the SAI job now gone, he had to rely on his Navy contacts for training. His life would change as well.

“When I took retirement from Indian Navy, I had thought about the job offered by Haryana Government. But it was like a mother leaving her child alone. Then I got a job with SAI as a coach. But the case meant that I was sacked without my explanation. I used to get a pension of Rs 20,000 and luckily I had saved some money to buy a flat in Faridabad when I was in the job and where my parents and I stay now,” he explains.

There were other expenses too, including new equipment and a training stint under Abhinav Bindra’s coach in Germany.

“It meant that I used almost 70 per cent of my provident fund money but then I guess it was the hunger of winning medals for the country which kept me going. Often I would get angry but then I would spend more time at the range training. My parents still ask me about the job but when I return, they will be happy to see the medal,” adds Rajput.

With age catching up, he’s also had to focus harder on his fitness, especially with his event asking a lot out of the shooter. It helped him make the finals on three occasions in the World Cups last year.

“The phase was mentally tough for me but then I realised that I also needed to shoot and stay in contention. The scores in World Cups helped me and there were small things which coach Oleg Mikhailov helped me to correct. Like I was facing some trigger issue and we worked on this. Maybe, that was due to mental pressure. Sometimes, I could feel excess weight of the gun on my cheek,” adds Rajput.

Prior to Tuesday, Rajput’s best score in the last six months after the first two series of kneeling and prone was 307.3, which came in the ISSF World Cup in Mexico. The shooter had a score of 307.1 after the two series of kneeling and prone in the final and was in the lead. But a shot of 8.4 in the elimination after the two rounds of standing position meant that Rajput missed the gold medal to China’s Zhicheng Hui, who shot two scores of more than 10.3 in the last five elimination shots.

“I always knew that kneeling and prone are my strengths and I wanted to start with confidence. In kneeling series, when I shot a seven pointer, I thought it will impact my score after the second round but I managed to recover. The standing series was the toughest part here as it was humid. Also due to the venue being close to a lake, the wind does not have a particular direction. I have been shooting good scores for the last 6-8 months,” he says.

Rajput knows what it takes to win medals at his level, even when things aren’t going his way away from the range. But he reveals to have found a new motivation to keep himself going, “seeing youngstes like Saurabh Chaudhary winning medals at 16” and for now he’s going nowhere.