New Pin-up Boy of Indian Shooting

Shahzar Rizvi

Emerging Indian shooter from Meerut, Shahzar Rizvi has habit of proving critics wrong

By Adarsh Vinay

For Shahzar Rizvi, it’s always been about proving the doubters wrong. His parents, his friends, his neighbours, his critics. No one has ever had too much faith in him. Until he proves them wrong, that is.

Born in 1994 in Mawana Khurd, a small village near Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh, most of Shahzar’s childhood was spent breaking anything he could aim at with air guns and sling shots, much to the annoyance of his parents and neighbours.

Somebody suggested that he should try out professional shooting but considering how expensive the sport was, it was out of the question. There was no way his father could even afford a pistol. But his father’s employer had heard of Shahzar’s prodigious talent and loaned Rizvi senior Rs 2 lakhs to buy his son a pistol. His first pistol arrived from Austria and that’s where it all began.

“The village helped me to become an international shooter because of the constant rebuke from many of the elders and some relatives. They taunted me for wasting my father’s money by pursuing a rich man’s sport. And there were some of my friends who dismissed my childhood dreams of becoming a national champion as mere fantasy. I was angry but I did not show it. I took a pledge to prove everyone wrong,” recalls Rizvi.

“I had initially wanted to take up double trap because I had two cousins who were pursuing the sport. But because it was a costlier affair, I decided to opt for pistol shooting. My father sent me to Amar Pratap Singh’s academy in Meerut. And within a few months, I had attained scores to qualify for the nationals.’’

But while qualification was a cakewalk, the medals did not arrive as easily. He would excel in practice and his scores would be promising. But he wouldn’t be able to replicate his form during tournaments and his scores there would always let him down. So much so that his parents doubted if he was lying about his practice scores.

Finally, they gave him an ultimatum. Shooting was an expensive sport after all and they gave him a year to turn things around. In hindsight, that’s perhaps exactly the kind of push Shahzar needed. Another chance to prove everyone wrong. And he grabbed it with both hands.

In 2014, at 19 years of age, he won a silver medal at the Nationals. The next year, he won gold, pushing Olympic medalist Vijay Kumar into second place. In 2016, he won gold at the Asian Air Gun Championship in Tehran, piping favourite Jitu Rai for the top prize. In 2017, he did even better, winning the gold medal at the Commonwealth Championship in Brisbane.

He had won his parents over by this point and his neighbours had also followed suit. And by this point, many in the shooting fraternity had also taken notice. But several skeptics remained. Among them were the selectors for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. They could pick just 2 shooters and despite his form and his medal tally, they went with Rai and Om Prakash Mithraval. Their reasoning was that Rai was experienced and Mithraval was the national number one. And since they could pick just 2 shooters, they argued that Rai and Mithraval could compete in both the 10m and 50m air pistol events unlike Rizvi who was focused only on 10m.

Another setback for Rizvi. Or should we say, another opportunity for Rizvi to prove his doubters wrong.

“I have been maintaining second position in the national ranking and was almost sure of selection for the Commonwealth Games. But I was shocked when the selectors didn’t pick me for the Games. I was angry and wanted to prove a point and show everyone how good I can be,”

Despite the disappointment of missing out on a CWG event, he went for the World Cup in Mexico and won gold, setting a new world record score in the process. His 242.3 score bettered the previous record of 241.8 by Japanese legend Tomoyuki Matsuda.

His coach Ronak Pandit is clearly impressed. “It is not easy to motivate yourself when you have been left out from a big event like the Commonwealth Games, and that too for no fault of his. To lift yourself up, shrugging off the disappointment and deliver in a tournament like the World Cup is a huge achievement. Since he is a newcomer, he is never daunted by the big names and higher-ranked opponents and this has worked in his favour,” said Pandit.

He followed that World Cup gold medal with a silver medal at the World Cup in South Korea. He couldn’t replicate his form from Mexico but silver was enough to earn him the top spot in the ISSF world rankings.

With a World Cup gold medal and the world number one ranking in his repertoire, Rizvi sure has come a long way from the days when his parents and neighbours thought he was just another annoying kid with a slingshot. What’s reassuring however is that he is not getting carried away.

“The World No 1 is a not a big achievement. I know if I continue to give results, the rankings will take care of itself. The important thing is to shoot well and not get carried away,” said Rizvi on learning that he was top of the rankings.

He is currently training in Germany and has a lot of upcoming tournaments he will be eying. But his main focus will be on the big prize that is the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

His WhatsApp status for sometime has read ‘2020 Olympic gold mera hai’ (The 2020 Olympics gold is mine). As usual, there’ll be plenty of doubters who won’t believe he can do it. And as always, he will be rearing to prove them wrong.