If technology has shrunk the world, the aftermath of the pandemic has brought global citizens even closer. As mankind fights a pitched battle for survival against the virus, there is an outcry for a diversion from the overwhelming gloom. And what better way to beat back the negativity than to talk about sport and the sense of achievement associated with it. Thursday evening was unique in many ways as Vincent Hancock, Fehaid Al-Deehani and Peter Wilson, three champion shotgun shooters based in different time zones, came together for an online interaction to share their stories of success with former World No.1 in double trap Ronjan Sodhi.
It was a heady mix of experience, zeal and an insight into what it takes to beat the best in the business — skeet, trap and double trap in this case. Amid the trio’s tales of how important it is to have a goal and strive towards it, Al-Deehani’s story stands out. At 50, the Kuwaiti won his maiden Olympic gold in double trap at the 2016 Rio Games to add to the two bronze (one in trap), and was a culmination of the struggles “that can fill a book” on the road to Rio. A prolonged absence after the 2000 Sydney Games owing to differences with his federation to making a comeback in 2009, Al-Deehani’s training as a crack commando kept the fire burning. The key for him was the right approach to training — five hours at the shooting range and three hours in the gymnasium. From physical strength was borne the desire to shape up mentally. There was no better example of pushing the limits all the time than watching the lone figure of Al-Deehani shouting ‘pull’ from his station, unmindful that a sandstorm raged around him. “Whenever there were strong winds or rain, I would rush to the range as I wanted to master the conditions,” said the 53-year-old. To build muscle memory, Al-Deehani made it a point to always train alone, taking turns to shoot from different stations to “get precise while collecting information”.
In the backdrop of Al-Deehani’s tenacity, Hancock’s rise epitomizes what Generation X stands for, an inherent dislike to end up on the wrong side of the podium. The 31-year-old from Fort Worth, Texas, started early, tasting top-level competition as early as the 2005 World Championship. But getting off the blocks quickly also left him with the task of silencing the naysayers. “It’s your mindset that pushes you to reach the elite level. A lot of people told me I was too young to compete and win. Hot headed as I was then, I wanted to prove them wrong.” That he did, as after back-to-back gold in skeet at the Beijing and London Olympics, he won in Changwon two years ago for his fourth World Championship gold. With 12 gold in World Cups, Hancock’s already swelling tally will only grow as he heads to next year’s Tokyo Olympics with the belief that “I am the best”. “It’s not about being cocky but the confidence that every time I step on the range, I will do what’s required (to win).”
With the virus showing little signs of loosening its vice-like grip, the family man in Hancock has led him to pause and reset for now, quite like he did in 2016 after the Rio Games, to renew the passion for doing what he is best at.
Wilson too is using the time away from shooting to tend to his farm as he waits for the curve to flatten, but even while overlooking the harvest from a tractor, the 33-year-old Briton’s mind often wanders. Uppermost is the importance of bulk training. Coached by the legendary Ahmed Al-Maktoum, the Athens 2004 Olympic gold medallist in double trap has learnt to press the repeat button — to keep hitting the same target. It was this habit that allowed Wilson to overcome the almost-suffocating pressure of shooting before the home crowd in 2012. Of course, the advice from Al-Maktoum that it was okay to be nervous proved decisive, Wilson came away satisfied from Sunday’s interaction that quantity did matter, but to an extent. What sharpens the winning mentality is to make each shot count. Al-Deehani did it in his heydays and now Hancock is an advocate.
By Robin Bose