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Asian Games throwback with Jaspal Rana 

Asian Games throwback with Jaspal Rana 

Asian Games throwback is a series by InsideSport, where we track down the journeys of athletes who achieved unprecedented feats for India at the continetal event. In this interaction, we speak with Jaspal Rana, who was the first pistol shooter to win a gold medal for the country.

It was 2021, and the Indian shooting contingent at the Tokyo Olympics had failed to bring home a medal for the country. It was a dashed shame for a country which, in the last decade or so, had become a powerhouse of shooting. Our athletes succumbed to the immense weight of expectations of over a billion people and crumbled when it mattered the most. When the entire nation would have expected at least two medals at the Olympics, we scored a nought. 

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This was the story at Rio 2016 too, where the shooters had failed to make their mark despite doing so well in other competitions in the run up to the Olympics. Then world no.1 Jitu Rai, 2008 Olympic gold medalist Abinav Bindra, and 2012 medalist Gagan Narang had all failed to impress. 

Still the World Beaters in Shooting

Yet, despite these failures, shooting remains the sport which can make India a sporting powerhouse. Notwithstanding Olympic bloopers, the Indians rule the roost when it comes to the World Cups, Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games. Our shooters are feared, or rather, revered across the world in various disciplines and top the list in any given competition. 

But this journey has been a long one, which perhaps started in 1994, with Jaspal Rana’s gold medal in the 25m centre fire event at the Hiroshima Games. The shooter from Uttarakhand was the first from India to win a pistol event gold medal at the Asian Games. It was that gold, which instilled the confidence in the next generation of shooters to be where they are today.

Now, almost 30 years later, Jaspal Rana can recall what all had transpired back in the day and speaks with a hint of excitement in his voice.

“I was very young, in my teens, and full of energy. I remember putting in a lot of hours for my training with my foreign coach, Tibor Gonczol of Hungary. That period of Indian shooting is a little hard to explain. We had not started to win medals, and the facilities in India weren’t the greatest for the sport. I would raise my concerns to the people who mattered. For all that, I had developed an image of a rebel. But in hindsight, all that was needed to be able to reach a certain level in the world,” the shooter said in an interaction with InsideSport. 

At the Games Village

Remembering the pre-golden days of Indian shooting, Jaspal Rana went on to narrate a series of events which are still fresh in his memory. “I was going through my old album from 1994 just recently and I remember a few stories from then. The time I spent in the village was amazing. I had Rajeshwari (Randhir Singh’s daughter) for company, who was just four at that time. 

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“We would spend hours playing video games, so much so, people had started doubting my seriousness towards the Asian Games. To my defence, that was the age to indulge and I did just that. Fortunately, I won the gold medal there,” he chuckled.  

“I think being so young at that time worked in my favour. I had no care in the world, and had no clue what I was getting into. To not know who I was competing against proved to be a blessing in disguise. After I shot my last series, it had not sunk in that I had won the gold, but soon after that everyone around just lifted me. That is when it struck me that I had achieved something big. On the other hand, my father was taking all the pressure and made a vow to take me to the ancestral deity, if I’d won a gold.” 

After 1994, Rana went on to win three more gold medals at Asian Games.
After 1994, Rana went on to win three more gold medals at Asian Games.

Tackling the Bullies

Rana, along with Surinder Marwah and Ashok Pandit had won a bronze medal in the 25m centre fire pistol team event as well. The difference between the gold medal and bronze medal was merely three points, and both the senior members of the team made Rana know that they could have won the top prize too had he not missed the target.

“So, we won a bronze medal in the team event too. There we had Ashok Pandit and Mr. Marwah in the team. Post winning the medal, they scolded me for not shooting three more points, while I had scored 588. They even told me that I was shooting better on the day and should have got the gold for the country. I could not digest all that and told everything to my father, only to realise that my teammates were pulling my leg. We had a great laugh after that.”

Celebrations Back Home

Much to his surprise, he had a great reception upon coming back to India. He had his friends, family, in fact the entire village come at the airport just to get a glimpse of him.

“After I came back to India, the entire airport was filled with my relatives, neighbours, and the fans. I can recall all the faces till now. There was a fleet of 30-40 cars that had come to escort me at the airport, so all that was too good to be true. Post that, I had to go to every district of Uttarakhand just to meet swarms of people. In no time my attendance at college was short, and I had a lot of trouble dealing with that. But St. Stephens still has my picture in one of the corridors, so that makes up for the troubles.” 

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