Angad Vir Singh Bajwa laughs at his obsessive years filled with epiphanic odd hours. He would sleep in his room surrounded by armory and tear out of the sheets in the middle of the night; groggy and fanatical, with flying orange Frisbee-like disks zooming in his head and the idea of a perfect shot. “Those were mad, mad days,” Angad guffaws, “My dad has thrown it all out of my room and my coach has made sure I don’t slip into doing crazy things anymore.”
Those years went into the making of a guy who shot the perfect scores and became India’s first skeet shooter to win a gold medal at any continental or world event in November 2018 and exactly a year later, fetched him a 2020 Olympic quota. A tense shoot-off for the gold, after he was tied at a score of 56 with senior compatriot and Olympian Mairaj Ahmad Khan, had him prevailing 6-5 in the men’s skeet event at the Asian Championships in Doha.
“There were storms here overnight, as well as in the morning, so the conditions weren’t exactly ideal,” says Angad, “It was windy. I knew it would come down to the last round and once we got there, all I was chasing was the gold.” The 1-2 finish (of Angad and Mairaj) had India winning their 14th and 15th quota spots in shooting.
Starting out with air pistols, Angad drifted to rifles, which he found ‘dull and repetitive’, before stumbling into the joys and vagaries of outdoor shooting and moving targets. The Chandigarh boy, who moved to Canada for studies, became the country’s youngest open champion when he was 18. University couldn’t keep him away from shooting for long so he quit studies midway and returned home to dive completely into the sport. He spends his waking hours at the outdoor range built on his farmhouse in Dera Bassi, Chandigarh while his father, Gurpal Singh Bajwa is back in Canada running the family hospitality business.
In 2017, Angad traveled to USA to train under two-time Olympic gold medalist Vincent Hancock. He asked the decorated American shooter what was the one thing he hadn’t yet achieved. Hancock’s response was almost instant – an unfulfilled 60/60 score in the final. Hancock had equaled the world record score of 59/60 in four finals throughout his career but the perfect score had always eluded him. At the 2018 Asian Shotgun Championships in Kuwait, Angad surpassed Hancock and shot 60/60.
Over the past year, training with Norwegian shooter-turned coach Tore Brovold, Angad says has made a “hell of a difference”. “I was nuts about the sport, about training, just everything to do with shotgun,” says Angad, “He’s got me to calm down and focus on my technique. Either he’s in Chandigarh or we train together wherever we go, Italy, Cyprus, Norway or we’re on the phone. He’s in India now and even before the final round (on Sunday) I had a chat with him over call.”
Shotgun’s place in the pecking order of shooting events isn’t quite as celebrated as the indoor, sanitized arena ones of rifle and pistol. The latter two, Angad says always ‘bored him to death’. “I’ve often heard about the talk of shotgun events being the outliers, but never quite fathomed it fully. Shotgun in fact I’d say has more in common to golf, than to rifle or pistol. Conditions, stations, angles, speed, everything keeps changing. You can’t control the surroundings. It’s what makes it so exciting.” Even the color of the sky, how deep a shade of blue or gray it looks, can change the way targets appear.
Like most sportspersons, Angad too has a competition drill. Also, a playlist. Usually, he has a number by Canadian rapper Drake beating in his head as he counts his steps while walking on to the station, grabbing shells, loading his gun, finding his hold point and getting ready to call for the target. It’s how he gives his subconscious mind something to curl itself around as he locks his eyes on the flying target, pulls the trigger and watches it burst into a cloud of pink.
“I’m still mad about shooting,” says Angad, “It’s all I can think of. I can never get enough.” Perfect scores, the clink of gold and an Olympic quota now make it all seem sane and worthwhile.