Achievement is always a bright moment in one’s life, although when it comes after a long wait and hard work, the feeling becomes even more ecstatic. With one such background story and strong determination, a shooter from a small town of Uttar Pradesh, Mairaj Ahmad Khan qualified for the Rio Olympics 2016 last month.
Winning the Silver Medal at the ISSF World Cup, Mairaj booked his place for the Olympics games, to be held in Rio de Janeiro from 5th August 2016. The 41-year-old shooter from Khurja, became the first ever Indian to qualify for the Skeet Shooting event in the Olympic Games.
Earlier in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Mairaj claimed the Gold Medal, which still stands his best achievement. However, Mairaj assured that the Indian shooting contingent will return with a major medal tally from Rio Olympics. In an exclusive interview with FollowYourSport, Mairaj elucidated his love for shooting, Olympic dream and initial struggles.
You are the first Indian to qualify for Skeet Shooting event in Olympics, how are you feeling?
Obviously, it was a euphoric moment for me when I bagged the Olympics Quota, I cannot describe in words, how I felt at that very moment, over and above I was the first to do so.
How much hard work went into your Olympic qualification?
Hard work would be an understatement. I gave my entire life to this sport. I have been practising for 18 years to bag a quota for the Olympics but somehow could not make it. This time I was definite and I told myself now or never. My determination, willpower, family support and obviously rigorous training got me through.
You won the Silver Medal at the ISSF World Cup, what did you lack to clinch a Gold?
Well, a candid response!…. I gave my 200% to it but if my destiny holds a Silver nobody can change it. I am more than satisfied to have one rather than having nothing for all my sincere effort and hard work which has gone through.
When did you start Skeet Shooting? Did you face any struggle in your initial days?
I started in Skeet in 1998 but as a hobby, had never thought it will go that far, I qualified for my first ISSF competition in 2003 which was a turning point for me.
Life is never a bed of roses, coming from a small town in UP where there aren’t any facilities, you have to struggle hard to survive in this competitive world. Therefore, I left my hometown and came to Delhi to practise and compete among the World’s best.
What are your future plans for training ahead of Rio Olympics 2016?
I am preparing in Naples, Italy for the Olympics as the weather in India is too hot to practise, right now. My coach Ennio Falco has been working with me on my technical aspect to maintain my previous records. Also, I am working on my mental and physical fitness which is an important part of the training. My Coach advised me to shoot some International Grand Prix just to observe and sense the right amount of pressure which goes behind the International competitions.
Does Government support you in your training outlays?
Yes, the Government is supporting me entirely throughout and I am happy that the Ministry of Sports and Sports Authority of India (SAI) are helping me with NSDF (National Sports Development Fund), although I have no sponsors yet.
How much confident are you with the Indian shooting contingent going into the Olympics?
India’s medal prospects are high as far as shooting goes, we have some exceptionally super talented lot in here and expect to come out with major medal tally for India, as always.
Who do you admire the most in shooting (both Indian and International)?
There’s no such admiration per say but yes, I do have reverence and utmost regard for the athletes who have made a mark on their own in this form of sport and placed India on the global map. Well internationally, I would say ‘Ennio Falco’ my Coach.
We heard, apart from shooting, you like cricket as well. Who is your favourite cricketer and why?
Yes, cricket was my first love and I wanted to be a cricketer rather than a shooter. I have grown seeing Imran Khan playing on the field and wanted to be like him. The shooting came incidentally to me.
Shooting is an expensive sport, what steps do you think the government should take to make it easier for the middle-class aspirants?
The government needs to put in the effort for recognising the right talent and nurturing them, providing them with better training facilities, funding equipment, as buying a gun, is not as easy as buying a bat and a ball. The exposure to this sport is very limited unlike cricket, soccer, badminton, tennis etc. The Ministry should support and ensure coordination among state associations to assist aspiring athletes in pursuing the sport as a profession. Shooting is still an unknown realm to many.
Interview was taken & compiled by Akash Khanna