He’s the world’s No. 1 10m air rifle shooter. He is all of 17. Before the pandemic hit, his days were measured counting down towards the Tokyo Olympics, and the hours passed like minutes as he trained obsessively. Then the lockdown hit and everything came to a grinding halt for Divyansh Panwar. Shut in his apartment and without access to a range, Panwar spent more than fourteen days desperately itching to get his fingers on a trigger.
Then his personal coach and neighbour, Deepak Dubey, came up with a plan—they were going to recreate a 10m range at home, an apartment in Faridabad.
“Divyansh was at the lowest ebb in his competitive career and I had to do something to get him back to full training,” Dubey, 43, said.
Initially the plan was to make a firing point at Panwar’s flat—the shooter and his coach own near-identical apartments in the same complex—“but the configuration of the rooms didn’t allow a clear look at the target 10m away,” Panwar said. “So that was ruled out. Then my coach volunteered to construct the range at his place. Luckily, the room configuration in his 3 BHK home was perfect.
“We measured the distance from one end of the bedroom, right through the lobby and into the other end of the (second) bedroom. While it was a clear 10 meters, it left no space for me to stand and take aim,” Panwar added.
Space is not your friend if you are into DIY shooting ranges, especially in city apartments. 10 metres is around 33 feet, half the size of a cricket pitch from one bowling crease to another.
“So, the coach emptied his wardrobe, went on his bike to a friend’s place and brought an EST (Electronic Scoring Target) machine,” Panwar said. “He installed it inside the closet. Finally, I got the 10m space required and also enough space to stand and shoot.”
Now they had a firing lane. The next problem was lighting. A modern shooter’s training is based around two vital devices—the EST, and a highly sophisticated optical sensor attached to the barrel of the gun called a SCATT system, which tracks every aspect of a shooter’s motion, right from the minutest movements of the barrel to the pull of the trigger. Both systems need a certain amount of light to even get activated, and Dubey’s house was simply not bright enough.
“I had to move several tube lights in the house to one room,” Dubey said. “It was very tough getting the electrical fittings.”
Without access to an electrician or even a drill machine, Dubey and Panwar spent two days just making holes in the walls for the wiring, and to install plugs and sockets.
“For two days, with a hammer in hand, we kept chipping at the walls and the wardrobe to fix the lights,” said Dubey, who is associated with the junior national rifle squad and is also a coach with Khelo India.
Things fell in place hours before Panwar was to take part in an online competition where 50 top shooters from around the world competed on April 15.
Panwar logged in to the video conferencing platform called zoom, and placed his phone in such a way that the camera captured him, as well as the screen which displayed the score from the EST.
He finished fourth in what was a first-of-its kind championship.
“When the lockdown was enforced, we were completely clueless about how to pursue Divyansh’s training,” Dubey said. “Initially, I put a paper target on a wall in my house. But that’s a very, very primitive way of doing things. Then, we started playing badminton in the parking area of the compound but soon people started objecting, asking us to take the lockdown seriously. Since I stay on the sixth floor, I’ve now enforced a rule that Divyansh will only take the stairs to my house. At least that will give him some exercise.”
Now Panwar is back to training every day, shooting competitive scores on a regular basis.
Thankfully, the supply of lead pellets, which are imported from Italy and Germany, is not a problem. “We had a few tins which we were using judiciously,” Panwar said. “Then we got a call from a TOPS (Target Olympics Podium Scheme) official a couple of days back and coach sir went to the Karni Singh Shooting Ranges (in Tughlakabad) to collect the fresh stocks.”