Mairaj Ahmed Khan
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Indian shooting got a new star in Rio in August 2016. A 40-year-old from a landed family in Khurja (UP), who has been spinning dreams with his shotgun for years, trying to make a statement for skeet, better known as the `country cousin' of double trap and trap shooting in India. Mairaj Ahmad Khan made history when he became the first skeet shooter to qualify for the Olympics. He won the quota in 2015 in Italy and went on to win a silver in the World Cup here some months back. That was when he was given the label of the dark horse. While everyone followed the usual big names of Indian shooting, Mairaj preferred to stay away from limelight, doing his thing, his own way .
At Rio, he came close to making the final comprising six shooters. He was joint fifth on the table with 121 points after the qualification got over. He got into a shootoff with five others for the two spots available, but missed a high bird and a shot at glory .
It was that same so near-yet story which has plagued India at these Games. But don't dismiss this hardworking pathan. By his performance he has put Indian skeet shooting on the world map.
It all began when Italian coach Ennio Falco came in as the national coach for Indian skeet shooters two years ago. “Falco gave me the belief.Till then, I was around but no one noticed me. It has changed in the last two years. The Italian told me a simple thing if others can do it, so can you. I'm sad that I missed the podium but as Falco says, it is just the journey , not the destination,“ Mairaj told TOI. But isn't he getting older? “Age is just a number. I began as a trap shooter and shifted to skeet after my cousin imported a skeet shotgun and we began practicing in Khurja. The gold medal win ner here is 49-years-old. I still have a long way to go.“
He said that he was on the road since April this year. “I have worked very hard. Went home just for two days for Eid. It's just been shooting, day in and out. I am fitter and sharper than before. I will keep on going,“ he said.