Countdown to Tokyo Olympics: Know your Olympian – Saurabh Chaudhary

A look at pistol prodigy Saurabh Chaudhary's career, one of the main contenders for the 10m Air Pistol crown at Tokyo 2020.

Saurabh Chaudhary
Saurabh Chaudhary will represent India at Tokyo Olympics in 10m air pistol event
Name Saurabh Chaudhary
Date of Birth12 May 2002
Birth PlaceMeerut, Uttar Pradesh
Current World Ranking2 (2021)
Sport/Event(s)Shooting – Men’s 10m Air Pistol
Major achievementsMixed AP Golds at 5 ISSF World Cups (2019, 2021)
Individual Golds at 2 ISSF World Cups (2019)
Gold at 2018 Asian Games
Silver at 2021 Delhi ISSF World Cup
Bronze at 2019 Rio de Janeiro ISSF World Cup
Silver at 2019 Doha Asian Championships
2018 Youth Olympic Champion
2018 World Junior Champion
Gold at 2018 ISSF Junior World Cup (Individual and Mixed Team)
Current junior finals World Record (246.3)

Adjectives cannot describe what Saurabh Chaudhary has achieved over the last three years. He came with a formidable reputation from the junior circuit, but few could have predicted the trajectory his career would take since his senior debut at the 2018 Asian Games.

At Jakarta 2018, amidst a field comprising of multiple-time World and Olympic champion Jin Jong-oh, 2010 World Champion Tomoyuki Matsuda, reigning Olympic gold-medalist Hoang Xuan Vinh (who did not qualify for the finals) and former Asiad champion Lee Dae-myung, 16-year old Saurabh Chaudhary emerged the winner.

The manner of his win too signified class and not beginner’s luck. Saurabh shot 586- the highest in qualification- and followed it up with a new Games Record-setting finals performance of 240.7, a whole point ahead of the silver-medalist Matsuda.

Saurabh Chaudhary’s 2019 season

Saurabh Chaudhary
Saurabh Chaudhary at the 2018 Asian Games

2019 showed that the Asiad was not a fluke, but the beginning of something special. Saurabh had already been crowned the Junior World and Youth Olympics champion in 2018, and now was the time to shine at the senior level.

At the 2019 Delhi World Cup, his maiden ISSF senior appearance, Saurabh won gold with a commanding performance of 587 in qualifications and 245 in finals. At Munich 2019, he scored 586 and 246.3, the latter being a finals junior World Record. Saurabh followed it up with a bronze at Rio 2019, a relative downgrade by his standards.

Saurabh and compatriot Abhishek Verma each won 2 golds from the 4 rifle/pistol World Cups held in 2019, hence it came as an upset to see neither finish on the podium at the ISSF World Cup finals at Putian, China. Saurabh however roared back into form at the 2019 Doha Asian Championships. It took a finals World Record breaking performance of 246.5 by North Korean Kim Song Guk to deprive Saurabh of the gold at Doha.

The biggest revelation of the 2019 season was the Air Pistol Mixed partnership of Saurabh and Manu Bhaker. The duo, both only 17 then, swept all 4 ISSF World Cup golds of 2019, regardless of changes in format, venues, or competitors.

2021 and Tokyo Olympics

Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker
Manu and Saurabh

Ask any Indian fan their main medal contenders for Tokyo 2020. Chances are ‘Saurabh Chaudhary’ and/or ‘Saurabh and Manu’ will be the first name they list.

Saurabh has come as a phenomenon. He has rarely, if ever, shot below 580 in a major competition- the number that separates the merely good from the elite in 10m Air Pistol. He is a sporting prodigy perhaps not seen since the days of Sachin Tendulkar and Vishwanathan Anand. Still only 19, he has the potential to reach heights no Indian sportsperson has attained before.

His 2021 performances so far have been a continuation of his 2019 form- a silver at the Delhi World Cup and characteristically high scores at the European Championships.

Still, a word of caution is advised. From Jitu Rai’s meltdown at Rio 2016 we know that the Olympics are a completely different beast to a routine ISSF competition. The difference between a finals or podium place and heartbreak can be millimeters. And Saurabh is of course still a teenager. It’s best if fans and officials don’t put too much pressure on the likes of Saurabh and Manu and let them revel in the occasion instead.

However Saurabh has so far shown unflappable temperament on the big stage. If he can keep to his trademark equanimity at Tokyo, a podium place is very much on the cards.

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