Dentist sharpshooter aims to give India golden smile at Olympics

Mumbai (AFP) –


With one hand in her pocket and the other on the trigger, India's ace shooter Heena Sidhu is trying to keep it cool as she targets glory at the Rio Olympics.

The 26-year-old, who is a qualified dentist, may be desperate to put a smile on the face of medal-starved fans back home but she knows that she must stay relaxed despite carrying the huge burden of an expectant nation.

"Everybody goes through pressure. That pressure comes from expectations," said Sidhu, who will compete in the 10 metre and 25 metre air pistol events at the Games in August.

"I just don't want to add my personal expectations to that pressure which is already there and make it so hard on myself."

India have only won three Olympic medals in individual women's events. None have been in shooting and no Indian woman has stood on the top step of the podium.

But Sidhu, who has an International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup title and a Commonwealth Games silver medal to her name, is regarded as the best chance of filling that gaping hole with gold.

The Games will be Sidhu's second Olympics after competing in the 10 metre air pistol at London 2012.

She endured disappointment four years ago though, finishing 12th in qualification and failing to make the final.

Sidhu blamed her early exit on being too desperate to win but insists she has learnt from the experience and will do things differently this time around.

"If I think about the medal from the first shot I won't even be able to release it –- that's how the sport of shooting is.

"When I went to London it wasn't so enjoyable because I was under so much pressure that I put on myself, which I don't want this time."

- 'A new landmark' -

Sidhu has gone from strength to strength since London, winning gold in the 10 metre air pistol at the ISSF World Cup in Germany in 2013. In January she grabbed 10 metre gold in Asia's Olympic qualifying tournament.

"I've shot so many high-pressure matches since that (London) Olympics where I've gotten the medal so it gives you that confidence," she explained to AFP at Mumbai's Maharashtra Rifle Association.

Her husband and coach Ronak Pandit is confident Sidhu can achieve something special -- the first individual Indian medal in women's shooting and perhaps breaking the world record en route.

Male shooter Abhinav Bindra became the first Indian to win an individual gold medal when he triumphed in the 10 metre air rifle event in Beijing in 2008.

"A world record. Yes, because she's that good," Pandit predicted confidently.

"I won't be surprised that if we get things right on the day we will be able to make a new landmark in the sport."

Sidhu stares intensely at the target with her right eye, her left eye covered and her left hand tucked away in her pocket as she shoots.

She has to enter an almost trance-like state, emptying her mind and thinking about nothing as she lines up each shot. "That's the best state to be in," she explains.

Sidhu, originally from Punjab state, took up shooting when she was 17. Her father was a national shooter while her uncle was a gunsmith.

"I'm in the sport because I used to love guns. Now I'm just OK about guns but I love the technique of shooting, the art of shooting."