'Medal prospect to qualifying debacle' - What derailed Aishwary Pratap Singh's Tokyo 2020 campaign?
Aishwary Pratap Singh was in a rich vein of form after returning to competitions in 2021 following a long pandemic-induced break. He won gold in the 50m 3P event in the New Delhi World Cup in March, grabbed third place in the MQS (Minimum Qualification Score) section in the European Championship, and finished sixth in the Osijek World Cup in Croatia just before flying to Tokyo.
Given his form, it was expected that the 20-year-old shooter would at least qualify for the finals, if not finish on the podium at Tokyo 2020. And he even started on the right note in Tokyo. He had scored 397 in kneeling, 391 in prone and a place in the top-eight looked well within reach. However, when the standing event commenced his ranking started going south. Aishwary looked ill-at-ease and was evident that there was something that was bugging him. In the end, he managed to get only 379 and finished on the 21st sport, missing the qualification mark by just nine points.
What was it that was troubling him so much?
"I started having back pain after reaching Tokyo. I could not even train well because of that, prior to the competition. I was under the supervision of the physio but things hardly improved. Maybe I could not give my 100 per cent because of that," he revealed to Olympics.com.
While kneeling and prone he had little problem shooting but in the standing position where one needs to be upright, he would feel the pinch.
Nevertheless, after returning to India he took a complete break from shooting for a month to clear his head, recuperate from the injury, and refresh himself. Now he is back in business at the Madhya Pradesh Shooting Academy (MPSA) in Bhopal, his usual stomping ground. And there are a couple of pressing matters which he wants to address as soon as possible.
"I need to reduce fat and change my weapon. I wanted to change before Tokyo but had no time. There were back-to-back competitions. So I could not take the risk," he said.
It is noteworthy that after the lockdown he had a growth spurt and had to get a new suit stitched up before he could return to competitions. This time to avoid that, he has already hit the gym and is focusing on cardio exercises to shed some kilos.
"I have to make a routine now and focus on the events ahead. It feels strange and bad whenever that (the Olympic performance) comes to my mind."
It gradually became clear that the Tokyo memories continue to haunt him, albeit occasionally. Upon further pondering, Aishwary explained," There was a lot of confusion until the last moment that who should go to Tokyo. So it was very important for me to perform and give my best after the lockdown. Even in the trials, I had to be on my toes. I wanted to change a few technical things but I did not dare do that. The weapon is one of them.
"It takes at least two-three months to get going again with the changes and I did not have that confidence that I can perform well immediately after incorporating those changes. At that time the most important thing was to get selected for the team for the Olympics."
But soon the gloomy voice drowns under a steely resolve and Aishwary is ready to concentrate on his future. He has already set his goals for the next Olympic cycle and wants to work on those with determination and purpose.
"I need to make changes to my prone. I lose seven-eight points now, which I have to make up on the other two positions. This has to stop. And, since this is a three-year cycle we have no time to take it easy. Toh bheer jana hai abhi sey. I also want to qualify in the 10m event as well in Paris. So I am focusing on two Olympic events instead of one," he stated.
The youngster is not ready to be bogged down by failures. He wants to turn it around as soon as possible. And he is therefore travelling to Peru to participate in the World Junior Championship starting from September 27. To exorcise the ghosts of the past and set on a new journey with Paris in the inner 10s.