Rudrankksh Patil took two trips to Germany seeking control over his mind last year. The teen’s short journeys – one just eight-day-long and another for 15 days – retraced the ones that his idol Abhinav Bindra would frequently undertake during his career to work under renowned coach Heinz Reinkemeier.
The German coach is known to have moulded the careers of not just India’s first individual Olympic medallist, but also Athens Olympics finalist Suma Shirur, who is currently a coach with the Indian rifle team.
“Reinkemeier’s experience is the sixth gear to my car. He was the coach of many Olympic medallists. Due to that, he has tremendous experience in all the other fields, not just shooting,” Rudrankksh told The Indian Express from Cairo after winning gold in the 10m air rifle event at the ISSF Cairo World Cup on Tuesday. It was his second gold of the event as on Monday, he teamed up with R Narmada to finish on top in the mixed team competition.
Bindra has played a massive role in his life. His father, Balasaheb Patil, introduced Rudrankksh to shooting by telling him it was ‘Bindra’s sport’. As years went by, the teenager studied every aspect of Bindra, right from the way he talks and shoots. He even went to meet him at his Chandigarh home recently.
“There, he picked Bindra’s brains on how to stay focussed particularly in high-adrenaline situations. He’s obviously won gold at the World Championships last year, but he wanted to know from Bindra what kind of pressure and unexpected turns to expect at an Olympics, which he could face at Paris 2024,” his father Balasaheb told this paper.
Patil Sr added: “Rudrankksh doesn’t do anything superficially. There are no half-measures with him. He has this need to go deep to the bottom of anything that catches his fancy. So naturally, he wanted to go to work with Reinkemeier due to the Bindra connection. He went to Germany to learn how to control his mind in finals at big-ticket events. How to find the balance when he stands in the lane. He went there to solidify his basics.”
Playing despite fever
Those tips from Bindra and Reinkemeier came in handy on Tuesday in the 10m air rifle event because Rudrankksh was running a high fever all through Tuesday that made his body shiver and blocked his nose.
“I had a high fever today. Till yesterday (Monday) it was quite manageable but today it was really tough for me to even see the target, to focus that much. My body was shivering heavily, but I was mentally prepared. My goal was to follow my process and technique. So, my head during that time was quite cool and I just focused on my stuff,” said the 19-year-old, who was the youngest shooter in the 10m air rifle final on Tuesday.
For a rifle shooter, stability at the range is everything. From the thick jackets they wear to the unnatural positions they stand in, everything is done to find that zen-like stillness. The importance of having control over breathing also cannot be stated enough, particularly because it is one of the easiest ways to keep the heart rate down in adrenaline-pumping situations like World Cup finals.
“He was finding it difficult to breathe today. During the qualification event, he particularly struggled with it. He had a cold while he was flying to Cairo. But after he landed there it just got much worse,” Balasaheb said.
Despite the blocked nose, the teenager managed to sneak into the final with a qualification score of 629.3. Three shots of 9.9s in the qualification had dragged his final score down. Once in the eight-man final, though, his shooting groupings changed: each of his 25 shots were in the 10s, enabling him to breeze into the gold medal shootout against Germany’s Maximilian Ulbrich with more than a whole point’s gap between them.
He clung to that consistency in the gold medal match, barring the solo 9.9, to triumph by a 16-8 margin over the German.
For Rudrankksh, the ability to find tight groupings in high-profile finals brought him the Paris 2024 quota and the gold medal in October last year at the World Championships where, each of Patil’s 15 shots was in the 10s, the lowest being a 10.3.
That ability to go into the zone when he is shooting has often caused concerns for those around him. Balasaheb, who is the Superintendent of Police for Palghar district near Mumbai, remembers one time in 2017 that Rudrankksh was so immersed in his discipline that he had to request the local station to send a patrolling van to round up the boy and drag him home.
“Occasionally, he will forget to eat a meal. But one day there was a serious issue. It was raining very heavily in Thane, and I got reports saying that the streets were flooded. I then realised that Rudrankksh was training at a shooting range in the basement of a school and was worried for him. When my repeated calls went unanswered, I called the local chowki and requested them to send a patrolling car to check on him. They found him shooting by himself, without a care in the world. They had to pack him off and bring him home,” he said.