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This Olympics will test mental toughness like no other: Mairaj Khan – other sports


Skeet shooter Mairaj Ahmad Khan wished he was in Italy last week competing in Green Cup. But with the global pandemic disrupting normal life and interrupting international travel, the plan had to be shelved. Instead, Khan was relieved to be knocking down clay birds once again at the Karni Singh Range here.

Khan is making missed competitions part of his training for the Olympics. “I am preparing with the mindset that I am not going to get a single competition before the Olympics next year. If I get to test myself in a competition it will be good, but as things stand I should prepare mentally and technically to just go and compete in the Olympics,” he said.

A blank international sporting calendar and uncertainty over events in 2021 means vastly altered circumstances for athletes to prepare for Tokyo. “My feeling is this Olympics is going to be very different. Only a strong shooter – mentally and technically – will survive,” said Khan, who had also qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“You don’t know what to expect, how to prepare. There is no international competition at the moment except a world cup (March-April) which is to distribute quota places through world ranking and immediately you have the Olympics (July 26-August 7, 2021).”

Khan said in training he is trying to put himself under the kind of pressure he would face in a competition. “The only way is to create pressure in your mind. When you are shooting in training, you are so focused that you don’t want to miss a single target. You have to be mentally tough to last and technically perfect to score a perfect round.”

At the Rio Olympics, he was the first Indian skeet shooter to compete. Before that he won a silver medal at the ISSF World Cup in Rio at the same range. “Every shooter wants to have a feel of the conditions before Olympics. Trial events give you the confidence and vital insight into preparation. That may not be possible now; the Olympic range will be new for everyone,” he said.

Khan, 44, is thankful he is able to prepare at the range here. “After a month of lockdown, I started feeling frustrated without training. I went to a private range in Aligarh for some days. Thanks to SAI that they have opened the range for us.”

He has been in touch with Italian coach Ennio Falco, a gold medallist in 1996 Atlanta Olympics, who is making his training plan. “He asked me to come to Italy for competitions but I don’t want to take that risk even if international travel starts,” said Khan.

For the first time there will be two skeet shooters from India at the Olympics: Khan and young Angad Vir Singh Bajwa, both winning quotas at the 2019 Asian Championships. “Only an Olympic medal can make skeet more popular in the country. My focus is the Olympics and the world championships in 2022,” said Khan.


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