Meet India's newest shooting prodigy Divyansh Singh Panwar

Divyansh Singh Panwar won two medals at the 2019 Beijing World Cup and also earned an Olympic quota in the 10m air rifle event. NRAI

A few days ago, just before Divyansh Singh Panwar flew with the Indian team to Beijing, China for the Shooting World Cup, his coach Deepak Dubey tried to find a way to motivate him for the challenge that lay ahead. Win a medal at the competition and Dubey promised him he wouldn't have to drink the vegetable juice concoction he has the 16-year-old drink after practice sessions.

"It's quite good for an athlete but it has things like amla (gooseberry) and karela (bitter gourd) that not everyone likes. Divyansh really hates it. He's still a kid in that way. Once he vomited the entire thing out after drinking it. So I said that if he won a medal, he wouldn't have to have it anymore," says Dubey.

Panwar did more than hold up to his end of the bargain. On Thursday, he won a gold medal - in the 10m air rifle mixed team event with Anjum Moudgil. And on Friday, he won another - a silver medal in the men's 10m air rifle event, missing out on a gold medal by just .4 of a point. More significantly, he also bagged an Olympic quota, just the fourth won by a member of the Indian shooting team for the Tokyo Games.

If the distaste for a herbal concoction that his elders insist is good for him is a testament to his youth, his performance in China showcases his prodigious talent. Both were noticed by national coach Deepali Deshpande when he first made his way to the national junior team two years ago.

"He was really mischievous. None of us really knew what to do with him. There were just so many pranks that he played. Some of them we knew and most of them we still don't know. We had to be like a jasoos (spy) all the time," laughs Deshpande.

Yet, while often exasperated by his escapades, Deshpande was also impressed by his innate ability. "He was just raw talent. He didn't have the best technique, but he just knew how to hit those big scores," she says. What stood out, she says, was the fact that he rarely overthought situations, something particularly uncommon in teenage boys.

"I've worked with a lot of boys and most of them are more engineers than shooters. They are more often than not fiddling with their guns rather than just shooting. Divyansh isn't like that. He doesn't do a lot of analysis. He is someone who is very plain and simple," she says.

Panwar never really thought he was going to be a shooter or even an engineer for that matter. His parents are both doctors, as is his uncle and four of his cousins and Panwar too thought he was destined to follow in the medical profession. "I took up biology for that reason only in my class 11," he says.

Shooting happened entirely by chance. According to his father, the guard of the JDA Shooting range once came to his practice in Jaipur and that piqued his interest. "I must have been around 12 -years-old when my father took me to see the shooting range. And the next day, I was sent there to learn shooting," says Panwar.

He had an instinct with the gun and within a couple of years, had made it to the junior national team. He wasn't the best junior shooter back then, recalls Deshpande. "He was the typical backbencher. You would have to constantly be around him and have to call him three times before he'd come for the morning yoga sessions," she says.

On the range though, he was an entirely different shooter. "He was just one of the promising shooters when he began in the junior team. But one thing that really set him out was his ambition," says coach Suma Shirur.

"It wasn't that he was difficult to work with," says Dubey, who has worked with Panwar ever since he first came to the national camp. "He just had a lot of energy. It just needed to be channeled the right way. He might have resisted at the start, but once he got some structure in his training, things started to fall in place," he says.

2018 was the year Panwar started to make his move. Shirur's observation about his ambition was reinforced at the Junior World Cup in Suhl, where after he and Elavenil Valarivan qualified in top place for the mixed team final, he asked his coach whether he had set a world record. "When I said he hadn't, he replied ' ab toh final me karna hi hoga, (It will happen in the final then)" recalls Shirur. The mixed team pair would do exactly that as they claimed the gold medal in the final.

A few months later, Panwar would go past the men's 10m rifle final world record, albeit unofficially, at the Lakshya Cup in Mumbai at the start of the year. Just a few days before that, he had earned a place in the senior team for the first time. Although he failed to make the final round at the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi last month, few doubted Panwar would be denied much longer.

In New Delhi, his focus had been thrown by the loud cheers of the home crowd after he had shot an exceptional series. In China, he would iron out that flaw in his game. He was once again subjected to loud hooting and hollering in the finals of the mixed team event but he managed to keep his calm.

"Divyansh is someone who takes a lot of time between his shots and so he is usually the last person to take a shot in the finals . The crowd was really targeting him but he was able to block it all out. In the men's individual event, he had almost no nerves and was very relaxed. It's not easy to do but he has improved significantly with each tournament he is competing in now," says Deshpande.

Deshpande reckons Panwar will only continue to improve. "He still has that innocence of youth but he's getting experience as well. He's maturing physically as well as mentally," she says.

Indeed, Panwar is showing glimpses of his development of the latter. At least coach Dubey thinks so. "When I congratulated him about his medal, I told him he didn't need to have that juice now. Divyansh said that he wouldn't stop drinking the vegetable juice after all. Mere liye kuch to kar raha hai, (It's definitely doing something for me)" Dubey says.