'She has a great stability of mind' - how teenager Esha Singh thrived under chaos to clinch silver

Esha Singh won silver in the women's 25m pistol event at the 19th Asian Games, Hangzhou. Shan Yuqi/Xinhua via Getty Images

Imagine a 9-year-old trying to use a shotgun at a shooting range. The equipment is obviously too heavy for a child. But this is a child keen on taking up the sport, coming from a sport family.

What do they do? Get her a special, smaller handgun with which she trains, becomes a state level junior champion in a year at 10 years of age. At 13, she is the youngest ever senior national champion, beating established names in the field.

At 18, Esha Singh is now an Asian Games medallist. Five years after a breakthrough at the senior scene, the child prodigy has won her biggest senior individual medal. The silver in women's 25m pistol in Hangzhou reinforces what was long known -- the teenager is a special talent. Even in a sport filled with teenage prodigy champions, she has made a mark.

"We had to buy a smaller version of the air pistol to start with, that's how her journey started," her father Sachin Singh tells ESPN.

Sachin was a rally driver and had a sports goods store in Hyderabad, so he knew the value of playing sport and the importance investing in it. It's why he always encouraged Esha, even stopping his rallying career and travelling with her full time as she learned shooting.

Esha, on her part, is a very committed and composed teen who always pushes herself with set goals.

"She is very target oriented. Even if she needs something, to buy a phone or something, she will set a target for herself and achieve it and then take, she doesn't just take it as a gift," Sachin says. An unlikely trait in a Gen Z athlete, but a natural one in a shooter.

About four years after she started the sport, she become the youngest national champion, beating veterans Heena Sidhu and Manu Bhaker in the 10m air pistol event.

That was 2018, the last time the Asian Games were held. Heena had won a medal there while Manu had also reached the final.

Cut to five years later, Esha was in the 25m air pistol final at the Asian Games with Manu Bhaker, the senior of the two. They have already won the team gold with a strong performance in qualification.

The final, though, is a strange battle with two interruptions due to equipment malfunction. First Manu's weapon needs to be looked at, then there is a target system malfunction and proceedings are stopped for about 10 minutes.

In between this, Esha has slipped with just one hit (out of 5) in the fifth series and then manages a 3 to be tied fourth.

While chaos continues around her, she tries to stay calm and her father, who is in Hangzhou with her, is asking her to stay in the zone from the stands.

"When you have a long break, athletes can get out of their zone, I was telling her to stay in the zone. There was a long break and if your rhythm breaks and getting back can be tough," he says.

Esha, though, was likely unfazed because she responded with a 5 and 4 to go up to silver medal position. A thrilling comeback to seal her first individual Asian Games medal.

"She has a great stability of mind. In her matches, even if she is down at no. 8 you can expect her to come back to win gold. She doesn't withdraw herself out of a game till the last shot," he says.

A naturally calm and quiet child from childhood, her father says she is so composed she usually doesn't event need intense mental training. Sachin has always ensured she gets the best of training needed, from travelling to Pune to train at Gun for Glory Academy to having a full-time physio for Esha. "At the age she was starting, everything is growing -- from her bones to her muscles to even the retinas of her eyes. So, I needed to ensure that she stayed injury free," he had told ESPN last year when Esha marked her ISSF World Cup debut with three medals.

At the same time, the family has ensured she stays on top of her academics. She passed 12th exams earlier this year with 74% and is planning to pursue her BBA because her father insists that graduation is important along with sport.

It's this support that has made Esha's early progression through the ranks sustainable. She was earmarked for big things from the time she was 13, but over the last five years she had a steady journey from the junior ranks to senior success.

In 2022, she won her first senior World Cup medal. In August, she became the senior world champion in 10m air pistol mixed team, heading into the Asiad as a strong medal hope.

She has already fulfilled this with her gold and silver on Wednesday, but she has a chance to add a bunch more to this. Esha also competes in 10m air pistol women's and mixed team while will happen through the week.

Her next events are on September 29 and 30, where she will come armed with the experience of the podium along with a pistol that is now just the right size for glory.