Gagan Narang may have mastered the art of beating nerves in top-flight competition, a quality that got him a bronze in men’s 10m air rifle at the 2012 London Olympics, but while conducting the maiden episode of ‘Shootout with Gagan Narang’ on Instagram, the champion shooter admitted to “match pressure”. After all, the interviewee was a three-time Olympic medallist Rajmond Debevec, a man Narang said has spent more time on the shooting range in 49 years than him cutting birthday cakes.
Debevec was a picture of poise as he took questions from Narang in-between sips of tea. At 57, there is little to achieve other than a last shot at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, but shooting still remains the Slovenian’s first love. Not many would have known before the interaction, which got a rousing response, that it was Debevec’s second love that got him to the top as a 50m rifle shooter. A keen mountaineer, the desire to be on the top was borne out of the challenge of scaling a peak. “There is no retreat till you reach your goal,” said Debevec.
Emerging from a two-month lockdown in the town of Ljubljana, he did admit that tiding over the phase was not easy as he felt demotivated and no amount of dry training/simulation was of help since tournaments are not lined up soon after the pandemic forced the world shooting body, ISSF, to cancel events.
Growing up in former Yugoslavia where there was little to fall back on save his passion and knowledge acquired from shooting magazines, Debevec showed promise quite early. Winning the team and individual silver at the 1980 European Championships in Madrid at 16, he was driven by the desire to make the Olympics. The 1984 Los Angeles Games fulfilled the desire to at least participate but from there on, the hunger for a medal saw him endure a prolonged barren run.
“It was in my nature to keep trying till a goal is achieved and that kept me going till my fifth Olympics,” said Debevec. After falling short in the final at Barcelona despite holding the world record in men’s 50m rifle three positions as he was burdened by expectations and responsibility of being Slovenia’s flag-bearer, and Atlanta, Debevec’s crowning glory came at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Missing out in 1992 and 1996, Narang could relate to Debevec’s pain having been in a similar position in Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).
On the day of the final in Sydney, Debevec woke up to a gloomy morning but by the time he arrived at the range, the weather had improved. “I told myself it was my day.” Carrying the confidence to the final preparatory room, Debevec received a further boost when the others shooters “appeared to look green and white” on account of the advantage he carried into the final. It was a smooth run as Debevec increased his lead with every shot to win comfortably with a score of 98.1. Long-time coach Alojz Mikolic, to whom Debevec turns to even now for tips, was at hand to savour his ward’s success. There was double joy as on the back the shooting gold, Slovenia bagged another one in rowing. Pointing to Debevec’s run at Beijing and London, Narang pointed to how the role of coaches needed to get bigger in the Indian context. The London medal was Debevec’s only one in prone, which at point for him was for the “lazy”. The perception changed and with age catching up, prone was his best bet for a medal at 49. To top it, the London range wasn’t the easiest with intermittent rain and bright light posing a challenge.
After eight Olympics, Debevec is not ready to stop just yet. With the Tokyo Games postponed due to the pandemic, Debevec sees a slim chance of sealing a quota place through the qualifier in Croatia. “Nothing will happen if I don’t make it, but it is a goal. Shooting is a measured sport and I like mathematics as there is always scope to shoot better scores. It is a never-ending story,” he said.
By Robin Bose