On Wednesday, Mehuli Ghosh was finally able to enjoy a bit of much-deserved rest.
Since the last four days, the 17-year old had scarcely gotten a moment's break in New Delhi's Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range, where she had been competing at the 18th Kumar Surendra Singh Shooting Championship, and subsequently the 5th selection trials for the Asian Games.
Her plans for the day were simple. "I had a good meal, watched a movie. I spoke to my mom and my family. I just made sure we were talking about anything other than shooting," she said.
The last few days had understandably been high-pressure ones. After all, the Commonwealth Games silver medalist and World Cup medalist had a reputation -- of being one of the brightest prospects in Indian shooting -- to live up to. And she managed to do just that as she won gold medals in the senior and junior 10m air rifle events. Her score of 632.7 in the qualifying round of the 10m air rifle was just .7 points off the world record. Subsequently, at the selection trials, she finished second behind Elavenil Valarivan.
What Ghosh prized even more than the high scores and wins, was the mental fortitude she displayed throughout the competition. "It took a huge control of my physical and mental processes," she said.
"In these two tournaments, the most important thing for me was to maintain my level of consistency somehow. On the 16th, I had my senior mixed team event and then two qualification rounds. After that, I had the junior mixed team final on the 17th, where I won a silver. After that, I had my junior and senior finals on the 18th. And then I had the trials. One competition got over and then another started. And I had to keep my mental state at the same level for the entire time. It was an enormous task to control myself mentally and stay focused."
Maintaining that level of focus had not always been easy for her. She had missed out on a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games after prematurely celebrating what had been a score-leveling, but not winning shot. "I've learned a lot from that shot in the Commonwealth Games. I've been trying to improve my patience. It's important not to lose hope if your score is not good," she said.
Despite her early success, Ghosh still considers herself a work in progress. She has made an honest assessment of where she stands. "I've been learning something with every tournament that I have been competing in. Even after my medal in the Commonwealth Games, there was still so much to work on. After Gold Coast, I took part in South Korea (ISSF World Cup) and shot an average score (626). Then at the Munich World Cup, I shot even worse (620.3)," she recalled.
The latter experience made her take realistic look of her performances at the elite stage. "You realise just how much more you have to work to be at that level," she said. "I'm happy to get experience in Munich. I saw the whole world of shooting there. There were so many at such a high level. It was a push for myself."
These are important experiences to pick up, believes Ghosh. "These tournaments gave me an idea what exactly I should be working on more. I got the understanding that perhaps I was compromising on my mental conditioning as well as my physical fitness. I realised I had to start working on that seriously once again."
Changes have been made even to her actual toolkit too. At the KSS Shooting Championships, Ghosh had been using a modified rifle -- having upgraded her trigger, front sight and rifle butt. "I decided to make the changes after the Munich World Cup. The inner ring of my front sight has more contrast than the one I was using before. It took me some time to get used to it but it was important for me to keep improving," she said.
The learning only continued over the course of the previous week. "After three consecutive days of shooting, I was struggling to concentrate because I was so tired. In the past, I might have tried to push myself. But this time, I just decided to watch a movie and listen to some really loud music for a couple of hours. And because of that, I was able to get refreshed and get back to thinking what I needed to do and prepare myself properly for the last day of shooting. This was something I found out that actually helps me. I'm going to use it a lot more now."
That future she hopes for includes the Asian Games in a couple of months time. "I hope I get picked to the squad. But even if I don't, that's ok. I will still see that as a learning experience that will help me for the future," she said.