At 19, Elavenil Valarivan is India’s up and coming top rifle shooter. On the range, Elavenil lets her gun do the talking.

In an exclusive interview with Hari Priya, India’s up and coming shooter Elavenil Valarivan spoke about her journey, her love towards sports, coding and long-drive, the morale boosting Asian Games experience and what she needs to make India proud at the upcoming nationals and Asian Championship.

At 19 years old, Elavenil Valarivan is still a youngster in many senses – student of literature and girl who loves a long-drive, yet she is already made quite a name for herself as a skilled rifle shooter on an international level.

The Gujarat state shooter has various National and International Medals in her kitty as well. Now, she believes that the time is right for her to make an impact on the senior circuit.

Life has been a whirlwind for Elavenil since her record-breaking gold medal-winning performance at the ISSF Junior World Cup earlier this year in Sydney, where she broker Junior Men’s and Senior Women’s Qualification World Record 10m Air Rifle.

Formative years

Elavenil resides at Ahmadabad of Gujarat with her parents. The family shares deep connections to the state of Tamil Nadu. The 19-year-old was born in Cuddalore, has grown up in Ahmedabad where she completed her high school.

Though she stayed only two years in Tamil Nadu from the day she was born she is still fluent in the language. The multi-talent speaks also Hindi and English, and she even has time for another sport:

“I am in love with badminton and athletics. I follow them when I have free time. If not a pro-shooter; I would you be a Badminton player or sprinter. If not at all sports, professor.”

During her school days, Elavenil wanted to be a track and field athlete and compete at the highest level. But athletics’ loss could prove to be shooting’s gain as she is on the cusp of reaching world-class level just like her mentor Gagan Narang.

Passion for precision

Elavenil was just 13 when she held the gun for the first time in 2012. Initially, it was just for fun but ended up as her ultimate career and greatest ambition.

“I was very serious about doing athletics but I never thought it would be shooting..” 

“From very young age, I was interested in sports more than studies. I was very serious about doing athletics but I never thought it would be shooting,” says Elavenil.

It all changed in 2013 when she won a team bronze at the school games. From then on, it was all about the thrill of playing.

Elavenil has a passion for precision. And although the path is not always easy, she always tries to find the best in things.

When asked about why she chose rifle and not pistol, she replies that rifle is more competitive, “The very first time when I started shooting, I didn’t know there was a different category like Rifle and Pistol. I wouldn’t have chosen anything other than Rifle, even if I had the opportunity because Rifle is more competitive and more precisive.”

Confident, cool and calm under pressure

Being serene and self-confident is one of the key traits that every athlete who aspires to be significant in shooting must imbibe in their style of shoot.

For Elavenil, whatever issues come up, it always helps when you can sort them out within the tam and whenever she steps foot on the mat she likes being in the calmness under pressure and delivers consistent results which is what rewarded her in a positive way.

You can’t express your anger when you’re frustrated. Even if things don’t go well, you can’t react to that moment, because if you react for one shot, then you would lose all other following shots and it also start to pop up outside of shooting. I love the calmness being under pressure in any type of competition.”

Elavenil believes that shooting changed her character a lot

The Gujarat shooter also believes that shooting changed her character a lot, “I used to be a short-tempered person, but now I control my anger like anything.”

Even outside of shooting complex, I would control my anger and console myself that anything can be taken care of. Even if I wanted to get angry on certain things, I couldn’t actually,” she added.

The affinity between literature and coding

Elavenil is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English Literature in Bhavan’s Arts and Commerce College at Gujarat University and is equally committed to sports and academics.

Her love towards literature is real when she chooses novel over comics and names  ‘Sherlock Holmes’ as her favourite book; as if books are her only friends.

Her other side has also affinity toward coding, as she always wanted to be an engineer. “Shooting and Engineering couldn’t go together. So I dropped my Engineering plan. I took up art because this is easiest. You can manage without reading. And I can also give good interviews if I know English.”

The big challenge

When it comes to competition Elavenil likes a challenge, “A big challenge for me, in every tournament is to surpass my previous score.”

When asked how she pushes herself to the extreme of breaking records irrespective of winning medals?

She responds: “Frankly, I don’t go as planned to break records. I don’t think about it. I just wanted to surpass my best scores. You know, that push comes from there. I go to every tournament thinking I would surpass my previous score and that gives me additional motivation to do better.”

Following the footsteps

Elavenil rose to prominence after being selected for Project Leap, veteran shooter Gagan Narang’s initiative to train youngsters in 2017.

“It’s a good experience to train with him. When I train with him, I wanted to score more than him.”

Since then, Gagan has taken her under his wings and mentor her in shooting. Ela admires her mentor with huge respect and says the name ‘Gagan’ strikes fear into her heart, “because I have that much respect for him.  The fear is because of the respect. He won’t talk much, but when he talks you will love to be around with him.”

“It’s a good experience to train with him. When I train with him, I wanted to score more than him,” she added.

On friendly comradeship and competition

The key to her steady rise has been consistent results. “Maintaining consistency in every match I play is my goal,” she says. “I am only focused on executing the technique well and keeping nerves calm.

When asked, “As a team, the Indian shooting squad are in strong position, producing world-class shooter and the competition is high among Indian shooters too, but to find a spot in the squad is a tug of war often, “does that affect the dynamic among the shooter?”

She responds by saying “Actually to train together and compete in the world stage, it’s a moment to cherish, one of my friend and co-shooter in the academy is Shreya Agarwal was out there in the championship. She lost a few finals before and I was also rooting for her while I was competing. The moment she also won a medal, I was the happiest.”

And regard to the brewing friendly competition with other shooters like Mehuli Ghosh: “I don’t see anyone as my competitor, but I can say Mehuli would be there. We both went to the national camp at the same time and made our international debut at the same time. She is very notorious. I get along with her very well. I expect us to play together many more matches.”

On the morale booster Asian Games experience

Despite failing to secure a podium-finish, Elavenil, however, acknowledges that the Asian Games participation was a confidence booster.  Especially, because the quadrennial event was her first international tournament as a senior player, “It was totally different experience when you go from junior to senior all of sudden but I would say it was a good experience, especially to participate in such a big tournament. To make a debut in such a place, it was a very special moment for me.”

At the Asian Games, her plan was to maintain that same level of consistency. “Nothing more than that or lesser than that,” she says.

She further explains the reason why she had a little lack of confidence during the Asian Games, “there was some malfunction with my weapon.  I played with mixed fear and nervousness, but I gained confidence later, I came back and I performed well after that.”

“Performance comes and goes, but the thing is how you work for it. And I worked hard for this,” she added.

Expectations for the season and future plans

With hectic few months left in the season, Elavenil is positive about making an impact in this chunk of the year too. Having reached the better mark in the ISSF World Championship event this year, the youngster wants to go a step further.

With her fierce dedication and determination, you can trust her to shoot a bullet right through the competition.

But for now, she is focusing on the upcoming Nationals and Asian Championships to be held at Kuwait City, Kuwait November 2–12, 2018. The preparation for the tournament has started and she is definitely one to look out for on the international circuit.

And finally, when asked how she wants to be remembered, this was her response. “I want to be remembered as a most successful rifle shooter

 

Rapid-fire

Gagan Narang or Abhinav Bindra? : Gagan (I know him closely)

 

World Cup medal or Olympics medal: Olympics

 

Individual or team Event: Individual

 

Winter or summer: Winter

 

Comics or novel: Novels

 

Favourite book of all time: Sherlock series

 

Gold Medal or Making records: Making records

 

Road trip or Air trip: Road trip

 

Tattoo or Mehandhi: Tattoo

 

Movies or TV Series: TV Series

 

Idly – Sambar / Roti – Sabji: Idly & Sambar

 

 

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