How process-driven Rudrankksh Patil became 10m air rifle world champion at 18

Rudrankksh Patil (C) after winning the 10m Air Rifle title at the ISSF World Championship in Cairo Twitter/@RudrankkshP

At only 18, Rudrankksh Patil is the world champion in men's 10m air rifle and a two-time World Championship gold medallist. In his first year on the senior international circuit.

Teenage shooting stars is not a new phenomenon in India, but what sets Patil's achievement apart is that he did it at the World Championship, which happen once in four years with a loaded field, unlike the ISSF World Cups, which are held four times a year. Indeed, Patil beat two Chinese shooters - Sheng Lihao and Yang Haoran - who were on the podium at Tokyo Olympics. No small feat.

Patil is the second Indian to become the 10m rifle champion. The first? Abhinav Bindra back in 2006. That's some elite company.

His World Championship standing sealed a Paris 2024 Olympic quota spot in men's 10m air rifle as well - a discipline in which India has won two medals, and he already has the mentorship of the two medallist - Bindra and Gagan Narang. He is in contact with both of them, and often seeks out their technical advice.

"The main reason I started shooting was that my parents were very inspired by these two shooters... Now as I am growing, I see how they have trained, got their good technique and scores. With the help of that knowledge, which I apply, I am able to grow from their experience," he said at a Sports Authority of India press conference.

Slow-and-steady journey

Patil followed the slow-and-steady trajectory from nationals, to junior and then senior level performance - another deviation from the usual path of teen prodigies in India.

He started shooting when he was about 12 in 2015, after being introduced to the sport at a school in Thane, and won a bronze at the nationals in his first year. He had his share of teething troubles - his coach moved to Andheri and he travelled by the local train for almost two hours with the heavy rifle - and when he reached the tenth standard, he had to adjust with a makeshift range in Thane so that he can focus on studies at the same time.

"2018 was not a good year for me because I was coming fourth in almost every competition. With my coaches' backing, I was able to find my mistakes, observe my idols and grow out of that phase. In 2019 I won six international medals and that was a huge confidence boost. This helped me get selected in 2021 for the junior world championship, a major competition because it is once in four years, and I won an individual silver. With these medals I felt that I have that calibre and I can grow quite well. After that, we were able to set up process and are growing with that till today," he explained.

Process is more than a concept for Patil, who went ahead and got mental support very early in his career. "In 2018 when I was having a series of bad matches, I obviously hired a psychologist. Dr (Anand) Nadkarni helped me a lot, he basically restarted my entire thinking process and explained how to train the subconscious and focus the conscious mind."

This process-oriented mentality is reflected both in Patil's performance and how he describes it.

In the gold medal match at the Cairo for example, he was trailing Danilo Dennis Sollazzo 4-10 before bouncing back for a 17-13 victory in the new, one-shot each final format. Earlier, he had topped the qualification with a fantastic 633.9 and then in the ranking round - which determines the top two for the gold medal match - pipped his Chinese opponent by 0.01 point.

At a crucial moment in the final, national coach Thomas Farnik called for a time-out. "He reminded me that the relaxation exercises we learnt and I was able to calm myself. I was able to bring back my focus and I knew that if I have to provide some value to my training and hard work, I had to relax."

"The past experience of me playing in Cairo [at the ISSF World Cup in February] also helped... This year, I played two World Cups and came 11th and 7th. After that I had this huge hunger to move forward and it ultimately led to the World Championship gold."

Relaxing during a World Championship final is definitely not as easy as he makes it sound. But Patil's eloquence and confidence come from the secure support system around himself.

"In my team, we have a physiotherapist, nutritionist, psychologist, and sponsors as well, which help me improve technically and tactically. For preparation we have a set of plans and process which we have developed from 2019 itself. This pattern helps me perform better, get into peak form. I am able to improve this process every day and I think this is what is helping me right now."

This systematic approach means that he is prepared for anything, even fighting for the Olympic quota he has won when the newly-introduced stringent trails take place in 2024 - the first step towards the ultimate goal of an Olympic medal.

"Seeing my personal progress, I've been growing steadily from 2019. I have a set of processes and a good team for support. I believe that if I continue this process I will be able to perform at the 2024 Olympic trials."