NEW DELHI (AFP) – A 16-year-old policeman’s daughter from northern India hopes to continue shocking the sport of shooting as she targets an Asian Games medal and then takes aim at the Olympics.
Fresh-faced Malaika Goel has been a passionate shooter since the age of 10, when she saw a neighbour practising, and has since been firing at targets set up at home by her father.
Her dedication paid off when she won 10m air pistol silver at this year’s Commonwealth Games, upstaging the favourite, her compatriot Heena Sidhu.
Now Goel, whose idol is India’s former Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra, will be the one in the spotlight when she steps on to the Asian Games shooting range in Incheon.
“I have so much to learn and improve,” she said. “There is a long way to go to establish myself.
“And with the Chinese and Koreans around, the competition in Incheon will be much tougher.
“But then no one expected me to win a medal at Glasgow either. It all depends on some luck and how you shoot on that particular day. It does not matter if you are 16 or 60.”
Recent months have been heady for Goel, one of the youngest competitors at Incheon, who was unknown outside the shooting world when she was selected for the Commonwealth Games.
Participating in her first major competition, she caused a stir merely by reaching the final — and then finished second behind Singapore’s Shun Xie Teo, with Sidhu seventh.
“When I was picked for the Games, I thought it was a great opportunity to improve my scores,” she said. “But here I was with a medal. It almost came as a shock to finish ahead of Heena ‘didi’ (sister).”
Before arriving in South Korea, Goel will test her skills against the best at the world championships in Spain.
It is no coincidence that she started shooting in 2008, the same year that Bindra became a national hero by winning 10m air rifle gold in Beijing — India’s first and so far only individual Olympic title.
“I spoke to him for the first time in Glasgow,” she said of Bindra. “There was a lot to learn from him. I get very nervous before any competition, but he helped me calm my nerves.”
Goel first came to attention when she won the national 10m air pistol title last year, beating established Indian stars that included Sidhu.
She has already set her sights on the Rio de Janeiro Olympics two years away, when she will have a chance of emulating Bindra by winning a summer Games gold.
“No harm dreaming,” she said. “Every sportsperson dreams of winning at the Olympics.”
Goel’s training is supported by Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), a non-profit organisation run by former Indian sports stars, including Prakash Padukone and Geet Sethi, to help produce world champions.
“Malaika is an incredible talent and a bright prospect,” said Viren Rasquinha, a former Indian hockey captain and the chief executive officer of OGQ.