How the thrill of watching clay targets drew Ganemat Sekhon to skeet

How the thrill of watching clay targets drew Ganemat Sekhon to skeet

  
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Ganemat Sekhon

When Amrinder Sekhon took his daughter Ganemat to the shooting range for the first time in 2016, the 14-year-old liked what she saw right away. Sport always fascinated her and given the not-so happy association with academics, the “easy-going environment” in and around the shotgun area drew her into making a decision. The clincher was the sight of orange clay targets flying from left to right and the thrill of changing stations between shots.

The quick learner that Ganemat has been, the latest proof lies in her superlative show in the recently concluded ISSF World Cup in New Delhi with a team gold, silver and historic individual bronze, a choice was made within no time. Skeet it was but not before she had tried her hand at trap and double trap. “Unlike trap, where no one talks or looks at each other, the environment in skeet is easy going,” says Ganemat.

Embracing an expensive sport is a drain but Amrinder never let this dawn on his daughter. From the right equipment to ammunition, whenever the need arose Ganemat got what she required. “Initially, I was young to understand, but as time went by, I came to appreciate the efforts.”

Her biggest acknowledgement was the spark early on. Within a year of taking to the sport, Ganemat made the Indian junior team. A lot of lessons were learnt while criss-crossing continents, and among the main takeaways apart from strong results was mother Puneet stepping up even more as a bedrock of support. Even now when Ganemat is on tour, she makes it a point to call home for a chat. “Even though mom has no links with the sport, she is like a mental trainer. Talking to her has a calming effect and keeps me going.”

The career on fast track, Ganemat has had to deal with setbacks too. During a World Cup outing at Korea in 2019, she shot a high score on the opening day to be in reckoning but “got carried away” and fell back the following day. On return, the trials conducted by the NRAI were on similar lines and she had to sit out of the team for two international events. “That pushed me to work harder,” says Ganemat.

Parents apart, another vital cog in her support system has been former national junior coach Piero Genga. The first encounter happened during a camp at Sydney in 2018. “He treated me like his daughter and pushed me into believing that I had it in me to succeed.” Since then, the two have stayed in touch even after the Italian relinquished charge. “During lockdown, I called him a number of times and he was always there for me.” Ganemat may not have made the roll of honour at Vivek High School in Chandigarh, but she is effusive about the support from the institution during those formative years. “Taking time off for practice was never linked to performance and that was a critical factor in getting better.”

Like all athletes, Ganemat was in a quandary when the lockdown kicked in as a result of the pandemic. With tournaments cancelled or postponed and shooting ranges out of bounds for practice, staying motivated became a challenge. In this difficult hour, the gesture by the Sports Authority of India to help core group shooters with doorstep delivery of ammunition was a boon. Staying in touch helped when the situation eased and shooters were allowed to access the range. Real-time practice with social distancing norms gave the feel of a competition in a way but Ganemat missed having Amrinder watch her as parents were not allowed.

Hence, the joy of winning the first individual medal for the country in women’s skeet doubled as the father watched his girl bring glory at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range. “When you know that the person sitting behind wishes you well, the joy gets doubled,” said Ganemat. There was more in store as she went on to win silver in the women’s team final and gold in mixed team.

This World Cup has proved to be gamechanger for skeet, which for long has lagged trap and double trap in which the country has a rich tradition. “It has taken time but we (skeet shooters) are coming up. The current crop bodes well for the future as we are constantly pushing ourselves to get better,” says Ganemat. Perhaps, the biggest certificate came from Olympian Mairaj Ahmed Khan after Ganemat’s bronze. “His words were, ‘not only have you made yourself proud, it is recognition for skeet as well’.”

There will be no resting on laurels as soon after the World Cup Ganemat will be back at training with one eye on the upcoming World Cup in Lonato. The other will be on the fast-changing situation with the virus threatening again in the hope that the world does not come to a standstill again.

By Robin Bose

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