In 2010, Tejaswini Sawant became a world champion in prone with a world record score. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Melbourne she won two gold medals in 10m air rifle. She added two silvers and a bronze in the 2010 New Delhi CWG. But the Olympics continued to elude her
Tejaswini Sawant blitzed through her 120-shot 50 metre rifle three positions qualification—it requires 40 shots each to be fired standing, kneeling and while being prone—in two hours, a good 45 minutes of the allotted time remaining, at the Lusail Shooting Range in Doha this month.
Then started the anxious wait for the qualification phase to end, and see if she had made the cut for the final in the Asian Shooting Championships.
“When I finished my qualification, my teammates started telling me, ‘Why did you finish so early, you could have taken some more time, shot patiently.’ It was so tense, I kept pacing up and down at the range waiting for the qualification to finish and the finalists to be declared,” she said in an interview.
When the results were out, she not only qualified for the final but also bagged an Olympic quota place as three spots were available and five of the eight finalists were not eligible. It was the moment the 39-year-old Kolhapur shooter had waited for 12 years, since her first unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Sawant finished fourth in the final, narrowly missing bronze.
“It was our last chance to book Tokyo quotas and there was lot of pressure going into the competition, especially for the senior shooters. There were negative and positive thoughts coming into my mind. My inner voice told me, ‘Teju, you have been trying again and again and failing’. Another voice said, ‘so what, life has not stopped, just have faith in your abilities and focus on the job,’” she said.
In 2010, Sawant became a world champion in prone with a world record score. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Melbourne she won two gold medals in 10m air rifle. She added two silvers and a bronze in the 2010 New Delhi CWG. But the Olympics continued to elude her.
She took a break for a couple of months in 2013. When she returned, she found youngsters had taken her place in the national squad. She could not make it to the team for the 2014 CWG but kept pushing. It was only in the 2018 Gold Coast Games that Sawant made a strong comeback with gold in the 50m rifle 3P and silver in prone. That filled her with hope.
“The journey of a sportsperson never stops,” she is philosophical. “I took a break due to some family reason and that was it. Once I got back, I’ve been going to the ranges and training every day with all seriousness.”
Sawant admits there were many times when she wanted to give up shooting when results dried up. “When results don’t come, you start doubting yourself. But my family and coach (Kuheli Gangulee) backed me. I found the strength to continue only because I had such solid support.”
Once she made up her mind to keep competing, there was no looking back. The Gold Coast win was a fresh boost. The self-belief was back.
“After 2018 CWG, there were some sponsors who enquired but never got back. In India, there is a perception that an athlete can compete only till a certain age and then you must retire. This mindset is changing worldwide with athletes competing and winning well into their late 30s. I hope my performance will bring a change in this mindset.
“Especially, if you look at rifle 3 positions, the world’s top shooters are all very experienced. It is a sport where it takes years to learn the craft. I love the thrill of competing in three positions in which you have to be strong physically and mentally. You have to adapt to outside conditions, wind, weather, etc. Every day throws a new challenge.”
Gangulee, bronze medallist at the 1994 Victoria CWG in the 50m rifle 3 positions, has been a strong influence in her life. “She is 49 and still competing. I always look up to her. If she can compete till now, why can’t I?”