New Delhi:The absolute no-hoper in her sizzled in Sydney but as the toast of the nation in Athens, Anjali Bhagwat misfired four years later. Post a sabbatical that took her away from the spotlight, the veteran shooter quietly leaves for Beijing Olympics hoping to be third time lucky.
Anjali landed in Sydney in 2000 with a 'hardship' quota and finished a creditable seventh, thus becoming the first Indian to make it to the final of a shooting event.
Then came her annus mirabilis 2002 and Anjali shot four golds in the Manchester Commonwealth Games. Outside the shooting range, expectations kept rising and she eventually wilted under them in the 2004 Athens Olympics, finishing 20th in her pet 10m air rifle event.
The result forced her into wilderness before she realised there is no escaping from shooting, a phase she recalls in her website.
"I really did not decide to continue shooting after the Athens Olympics but then when I tried to keep away from the arena, I became restless, I became mad," says Anjali.
The rifle shooter feels while inexperience cost her a medal in Sydney, ill-conceived plans doomed her in Athens.
"I was just not prepared enough in Sydney even though I still put up a decent show. It was only 10 days before the event that I got to know that I would be competing in Olympics.
"At Athens, it was simply not my day. Besides, I was too serious. I just forgot to relax. I got my plans terribly wrong. I participated almost in each and every tournament and peaked at the wrong time. By the time I landed in Athens, my campaign was actually over," she rued.
The Khel Ratna awardee, however, insists Sydney and Athens are all water under the bridge now and she is hoping to be third time lucky in Beijing.
"I have reasons to be optimistic this time. I got my plans right, thanks to coach Lazlo Szucsak. He has been a great help. We started our preparation back in April 2006. He advised me which tournaments to compete in and which one to ignore.
"Besides, we picked some good ammunitions in Germany, especially some quality barrel. It's very important to get the right ammunition. At this stage, technically almost all are neck-and-neck and it's these little things that make all the difference," she said.
According to her, the challenge now is to beat the demon within.
"The competition is not with the field but the demon within. As you stand on the lane and focus on target, you tend to forget about others. It's all you and yourself. It's not easy to shut your mind and just concentrate.
"At times, mind runs to the podium when you are yet to fire your last shot. It's like playing against yourself," she explained.
Anjali is equally optimistic of the medal chances of eight fellow shooters in Beijing.
"This is the best shooting squad. Manavjit (Singh Sandhu), Gagan (Narang), (Rajyavardhan Singh) Rathore, Avneet (Kaur) -- all are in good form. They have recorded world class scores and some of them have been world number one.
"We are leaving for Malaysia which will have similar weather like Beijing and I hope everything falls in place when we reach Beijing," she said.