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After setting a CWG record with a 10.9 in the final shot of the 10m air rifle event, Mehuli Ghosh managed 9.9 in the shoot-off and won the silver. Photo: Reuters
After setting a CWG record with a 10.9 in the final shot of the 10m air rifle event, Mehuli Ghosh managed 9.9 in the shoot-off and won the silver. Photo: Reuters

CWG 2018: Mehuli Ghosh’s journey from depression to podium

At the 10m air rifle event at CWG 2018, 17-year-old Mehuli Ghosh showed the mental grit of a winner, nevermind she settled for the silver

“Sorry"—that’s the first thing Mehuli Ghosh says to her coach Joydeep Karmakar after winning a silver at the Commonwealth Games 2018 (CWG 2018) in Gold Coast, Australia, on Monday. The apology wasn’t because she had missed the gold in the women’s 10m air rifle event.

It was because the 17-year-old, who has made a remarkable comeback from depression, allowed herself to be distracted in the moment of winning. Here’s how.

With a sensational 10.9 in the final shot, Ghosh forced a shoot-off against Singapore’s Martina Lindsay Veloso and also created a Games record of 247.2. But seeing her name on the scoreboard, Ghosh thought she had won the gold and waved at the cameras, only to be told by the Indian coaching staff to return to her position for the shoot-off.

She could only manage a 9.9 in the shoot-off, compared with Veloso’s 10.3, and had to settle for a silver. Teammate and defending champion Apurvi Chandela won the bronze. “I didn’t understand at that moment, and couldn’t hear what everyone was saying," Ghosh told her coach on a WhatsApp call shortly after her event.

Back in Kolkata, Karmakar, a former Olympian himself, had caught the action on TV. He was nervous to begin with, and then just angry. “After Apurvi faltered, I kept chanting 10.9, 10.9. That’s what Mehuli needed for a tie," says Karmakar. “And that’s what she shot. It was unbelievable! And then I saw her raising her hand, celebrating, and I understood what had happened."

But he’s not too critical. “It’s her first Games, and she’s won silver. That is no mean feat," he says.

Shooting has emerged as one of India’s strongest disciplines in international sporting events. India’s only individual gold at the Olympics came from shooter Abhinav Bindra in Beijing 2008.

At the Commonwealth Games 2014, India won 17 of 64 medals in shooting, including four golds. So far this year, Indian shooters have won seven medals, including two golds, in six events. India is currently ranked third with 19 medals, including 10 golds.

Ghosh, from Baidyabati, about 30km from Kolkata, came to Karmakar in 2015 with her mother. While shooting at a small academy in Serampore, West Bengal, she accidentally hit an onlooker, and was suspended. Humiliated by her peers, Ghosh went into depression. Her mother, Mitali, took it upon herself to find her a new coach and eventually landed at the Joydeep Karmakar Shooting Academy in Kolkata.

For Ghosh and Karmakar though, performance counts more than the medals and that requires mental toughness. Karmakar said Monday’s incident shows he needs to accompany Ghosh for major competitions. It’s important because of the need for mental conditioning of a talented athlete, especially one so young. “There’s only that much you can do over WhatsApp calls and texts. Plenty of our shooters falter at the final stage, and that’s where mental conditioning comes into play."

“Mehuli has undergone a metamorphosis, mentally and technically," Karmakar says. What separates the winners from the rest is “the difference in their mindset, and that’s what we have to continue working on very hard".

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