Coach's flat turns into shooting range

Indian shooter Divyansh Singh Panwar stands poised behind blue tape stuck on the floor, aims and fires - across three rooms at a target hung in an empty bedroom cupboard.

From his coach's apartment, the 17-year-old world No. 1 in 10-metre air rifle is keeping alive his dream of competing in the next Olympics in Tokyo.

"I did not let disappointment creep in when this Covid-19 pandemic broke out," Panwar told AFP. "I just kept my positivity, thinking the Olympics will happen at a later date and I will be going for gold."

The teenager tried yoga and running up stairs to keep fit, but with his shooting range off-limits since late March, he was desperate to squeeze the trigger again.

One night his coach, Deepak Kumar Dubey, had the brainwave of turning his sixth-floor flat in Faridabad, outside New Delhi, into a makeshift range.

"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.

Panwar's own three-bedroom flat was unsuitable since the rooms are not connected. And thankfully, from a safety point of view at least, Dubey's family were stranded elsewhere in India.

"I realised that we could get a 10-metre distance if I empty stuff from two of my rooms and a lobby in between to get a clear shot at the target," Dubey said.

"I pasted all the yellow cards, lighting is also good. So no problem for training."

Panwar said: "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 metres, it left no space for me to stand and take aim.

"So, the coach emptied his wardrobe, went on his bike to a friend's place and brought an EST (Electronic Scoring Target) machine. He installed it inside the closet. Finally, I got the 10m space required and also enough space to stand and shoot.

"We took permission from the local resident welfare association and told them that we are members of the Indian shooting team, and they were very cooperative and supportive."


But setting up the temporary range had its challenges with little resources at hand for the student-coach team, with all but essential shops shut.

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 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. "It was impossible to get hold of a drill machine and a hammer in the lockdown.

"I used a grinding stone to hammer in the nails and also moved some lights from their original position to illuminate the shooting area."

They also got help from shooting administrators to get ammunition, despite the strict lockdown.

Panwar has now competed in three online competitions involving international shooters like Austria's Martin Strempfl and Etienne Germond of France.

They log in on the Zoom app from their locations with a camera behind their backs and fire at their EST, which is linked to a computer.

"We came fourth in the first open (online) tournament. This proved the fact that nobody would have got close (to Divyansh's score) if we had practised at a proper range," said Dubey.

To help him stay on course to the Japan journey, Panwar's training room has two clocks, with one displaying Tokyo time and other showing local time.

Panwar, who is part of a strong 15-member India shooting squad for the Tokyo Olympics, has six golds in Asian and world meets to his name. His hero is compatriot Abhinav Bindra.

Bindra created history in the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he topped the podium in the 10m air rifle, giving the country its first individual gold in the Olympics.

"It is a tough time but it has equipped me to face any situation in the future. If I get stuck in a foreign land, I can survive," said Panwar.

"We are now itching to get back to the range and get our Olympic preparations back on track."


"I did not let disappointment creep in when this Covid-19 pandemic broke out. I just kept my positivity, thinking the Olympics will happen at a later date and I will be going for gold."

- Indian shooter Divyansh Singh Panwar


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