Countdown to Rio: The Heena Sidhu Story
Our series, The Countdown to Rio continues, with excerpts from our interview with CNN-News 18’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo below, and excerpts from his book, My Olympic Journey, co-authored with Amit Bose.
Read the first part of his interview here, where he mentions his picks for best shot at a medal, at Rio — Saina Nehwal, Sindhu, Heena Sidhu.
Part Two/ Digvijay Singh Deo
The second one in my book and I think has a shot is Heena Sidhu.
Heena Sidhu didn’t qualify for the last Olympics — she was sent on a wild card ahead of established shooters like Rathore and Anjali Bhagwat, which caused a lot of heartburn. But what people forget was that this decision was taken by the NRA in consultation with Abhinav and a lot of other people, who said that the established shots have had their shot at qualifying, send someone to the Olympics who’s a medal hopeful next time and Heena was one of those emerging stars at that time.
She was five shots away from the final — five shots to go in qualification, she was number 4. And then, she talks about the pain and how behind her, a section of the crowd clapped; she put her gun down and after that, she couldn’t find her rhythm, and she shot 5 9’s and finished 11th. But she was in the hunt and ever since then, she’s won big tournaments, she’s been world number one. She’s got that mental focus and she shoots big scores, so on her day she can beat anyone. I think Heena Sidhu’s a wild card for me. She’s got a shot.
I’m looking forward to APOORVI CHANDELA — young kid, first Olympics, but amazing mental fortitude. She’s shooting the first event of the games along with Ayonika Paul. I’m really looking forward to seeing how she responds, because she’s very good under pressure. Ultimately, Amrita, at the Olympics it’s not how good you are, everybody knows how to shoot — it’s how you handle the pressure. The only difference between the Olympics and any other tournament is that any other tournament comes every year. But the Olympics comes every 4 years and there’s a list of greats in Indian sport who never won at the Olympics, because it’s so difficult.
How do you handle the pressure at that point of time … one shot can throw you off track.
Ultimately, at the Olympics it’s not how good you are, everybody knows how to shoot — it’s how you handle the pressure.
Anjali Bhagwat writes about it in the book as well — on how in Sydney she was the surprise finalist, and in Athens, despite being world number one and the best shooter in the world, she struggled, she just didn’t know what was happening. With each shot you get wrong, the pressure adds. It’s about handling pressure.
You can’t teach Sachin Tendulkar how to bat, right, in a World Cup final? It’s how he handles the occasion. The Olympics ultimately — that’s what the book talks about, it’s ultimately how do you handle that 50 minutes or one hour of competition and then the finals if you make it.
An apt quote from the chapter on Saina Nehwal:
“I realized that the key to success at the Olympics is to enjoy oneself and not get affected by the pressures that usually accompany these Games. I learnt the hard way that pressure can destroy your game. I do not play anywhere close to my potential when I am stressed.”
Fall and Rise, Only to Fall Again | Heena Sidhu
“…I used to be a very light sleeper, but ever since London, I have been sleeping with the lights on as well as the television volume turned up a fair bit. My poor husband Ronak Pandit has to suffer, but he shares the same dream as I do. It is all part of the journey.
Ronak himself has been a very successful shooter for India. He had been coaching me for a while. My selection for the Olympic team had happened at the last minute, and as a result, my coaching team could not get their accreditation done. I needed Ronak there during my match, but he did not even have the tickets to come and watch me shoot. I went to the chef de mission’s office looking for tickets, but they said they did not have any. Generally, competing sportspersons are given two tickets for family members, but for some reason, the IOA office did not have them for me.
There was no way I was giving up, even though Ronak and my brother told me to forget the tickets and concentrate on my match. The night before my match, I walked to the ticket office inside the Village. It was already 8 p.m. They were shutting down, but somehow I managed with great difficulty to persuade them to give me two tickets. Thankfully, shooting is considered a ‘boring’ sport by some and tickets are generally available, unlike for the cycling and swimming events. Ideally, it would have been much better had I stayed in my room the night before the match. I should have gone for a walk instead of struggling for tickets. It does take your mind off the competition, but it also makes you angry. Anger is not a good emotion to have at a crucial time like that. All these incidents have gone into my notebook for future reference.
The big day finally dawned. I did not start well again and dropped seven points in the first ten shots. But then the training kicked in. I pulled it back in the next twenty shots, and I was in line for a spot in the final. The last ten shots were extremely crucial. Thankfully, I was in the zone and hit five 10s in a row. Of course, I did not know it then, but I had risen to fourth in the overall standings. The top eight shooters would be progressing to the final. As I raised my pistol for the sixth shot, there was some noise behind me when the crowd applauded the shooter who had finished her round. I immediately put the pistol down as firing then would have meant a really poor shot. I have always handled these situations well, but that day, something went wrong and even today I have not been able to find the answers. I tried refocusing and going again, but the spell had been broken. I shot five 9s in a row and those five shots cost me a place in the final.
The margin between victory and defeat is so thin at the Olympics. I was hurt as I stepped off the range. One puts so much time and effort into doing well for those seventy minutes, and when it is over, you feel like you have fallen off a cliff. For six months, everything had been about those seventy minutes of competition. I had no idea what to do next. Before the match, I had chalked outa schedule. I knew exactly when to take a bathroom break, when to sit down and when to come back and talk to Ronak. All of a sudden, it was over. I felt like a robot that had been fed commands, but was now on its own.
After my match, I was completely zoned out. I vaguely remember going to watch the final of the air pistol event, but even today, I have no recollection of how I went there and how it unfolded. I was probably in a state of trance. They call it post-Olympic depression.
Excerpts from My Olympic Journey by Digvijay Singh Deo and Amit Bose, taken with kind permission of the author and Penguin Random House India
( Feature Image Credit: sportskeeda.com)