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After Tokyo blank, Indian shooting needs to build a bridge to Paris Olympics | More sports News – Times of India

September 6, 2021

NEW DELHI: One by one, the stars of India’s famed shooting contingent fell by the wayside at the Tokyo Olympics. The anticipated crescendo after a medal rush at the World Cups since Rio 2016 never arrived. It appeared India had pushed back the Chinese dominance in pistol and rifle in five years since the Games in Brazil. One would hope that wasn’t a smokescreen and the Tokyo debacle was a learning experience that came India’s way the tough way due to a combination of reasons.
But just one shooter (Saurabh Chaudhary) entering the final was hard to stomach, especially when India had sent its biggest contingent of 15 shooters to the Olympics, including many who ranked among the top three in the world. It only turned out to be part of the learning that rankings don’t transform into medals when it comes to the Olympics.
It can’t be denied, though, that it was the toughest road to the Olympics for any athlete. The Covid-19 pandemic not just postponed the Olympics by a year, but also put the players in lockdown to send preparations into complete disarray. It was a gradual, guarded return to the firing point, but without any competition for more than a year.
Taking names won’t be the right way to start building a bridge up to Paris 2024. But to the sport’s misfortune, names were taken in Tokyo and the derailed campaign crashed in the most sorry way possible, both on and off the firing point.
Hindsight is easy, but that’s one of the ways possible to dissect and find out where it all went wrong.
“There are too many variables in it,” said senior national pistol coach Samaresh Jung.
“The first thing that happened was Covid. For a very long time, there was no shooting. The shooters were doing what they were doing but there was no competition. So you lose your competitive edge. And then the situation in India itself with Covid was not very good,” Jung, famously nicknamed the ‘Gold Finger’ during his playing days, said talking to
“So there were separate issues with everybody. This would be a very simple way of saying things but they are not that simple.”
Of course, it’s not simple, more so when the issue is related to a precision sport like shooting.
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) did all it could. When the second Covid-19 wave had wreaked havoc in India, the shooters were flown to Croatia for a two-month camp and then departed to Tokyo straight from Zagreb.
At that time, it appeared to be the most ideal scenario to provide the shooters a training ground to prepare, when everything in India remained under lockdown and attempts to hold a national camp at home were repeatedly falling apart.
But Jung made an interesting observation when asked if the camp in Croatia was the best solution.
“Yes and no,” he said in his response. “The thing is when you are in India, you are at home, indirectly or directly. But in Croatia, okay the (Covid) situation was better than in India, but you were not at home. You were doing only shooting and shooting everyday. That is not a very nice thing.”
The indication towards a burnout for the shooters could perhaps be the reason for an average show at the Osijek World Cup before the Olympics.
India finished with just a solitary gold there, won by Rahi Sarnobat in women’s 25m Pistol. India’s final tally included a silver and two bronze medals as well. But that was only good for a lowly 10th position.
Interestingly, traditional rifle and pistol powerhouses China and Korea decided to skip the Osijek World Cup. Pistol coach Ronak Pandit, who was also with the contingent in Croatia and Tokyo, made a point related to that decision by the Chinese and the Koreans.
“My reports to the federation have always been ‘do not participate in mid-level competitions’. It spoils your habits,” said Pandit, who also fills the role of NRAI’s national high performance manager, talking to
He explained that further.
“When you are fighting hard, score big and lose the medal, you still have that hunger remaining. But when you shoot (below average) and end up winning a medal, it gives you some sense of complacency. That is why we have to be very, very selective with the kind of competitions we are shooting in.
“And second, whether that competition falls in line with our overall preparatory calendar or not… We don’t need to test your luck. We need to prepare and perform. These are two different things,” said Pandit, who is married to former world No. 1 pistol shooter Heena Sidhu.
But Tokyo didn’t just see action at the firing lane. Verbal bullets were fired off the range as well, and it came straight from the NRAI president, Raninder Singh, and turned into a wildfire.
The fast-deteriorating relations between junior pistol coach Jaspal Rana and Manu Bhaker were known to those within the fraternity but with Singh making it public in Tokyo, it kind of spilled the beans. What more, the timing of that was questionable, with the rifle shooters still having events to shoot in.
The shaky campaign’s focus drifting to off-field controversies could have possibly dented the confidence of Sanjeev Rajput and Tejaswini Sawant, irrespective of the world-stage experience they had.
Both Jung and Ronak steered clear of commenting on that, saying the president “did what he thought was okay.” But senior marksman Rajput said it would be wrong to say that it did not affect him.
“If I say I am the senior-most and it doesn’t matter to me, then that would be wrong,” said Rajput when contacted by
The rifleman went on to drop a hint that NRAI had lost confidence in their foreign coaches — Pavel Smirnov for pistol and Oleg Mikhailov for rifle.
“I think if we are hiring foreign coaches and giving them such high salaries (reportedly USD 7500 per month), we should also trust their style and technique…they have given results (too). We should have maintained our trust in the foreign coaches. (Otherwise) It becomes difficult to expect anything positive from the person. The relations become sour. At the end of it all, the shooter is at loss,” he said.
“I think the reason behind this situation is not trusting the foreign coaches.”
Apart from foreign coaches, shooters have time and again expressed interest in their personal coaches being allowed on tours. It can lead to three sets of coaches in tournaments — foreign, national and personal.
Jung said it’s never possible, with restrictions on the number of coaching and support staff on tours.
“They would definitely be more (comfortable) with their personal coaches because they spend more time with the personal coaches. But then again, like if we have 15 shooters, we can’t take 15 coaches. So what do you do?” Jung asked.
“Shooters also need to understand that there are restrictions and should be ready to work with the national coaches.”
The comments made in Tokyo hinted that the foreign coaches’ performance will be evaluated and they could be sacked if not found satisfactory. However, no development on that front has happened yet. The NRAI also has its elections coming up later this month.
A couple of medals in Tokyo would have changed the tone of a lot of things being discussed now about Indian shooting.
After winning medals at three consecutive Olympics in Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012, the sport witnessed exponential growth and shooting became more accessible at the grassroot level.
Will that growth take a hit after two consecutive blanks in Rio and Tokyo?
“As far as the growth trajectory is concerned, I think it will be maintained,” said Pandit. “Had we won a medal, it would have further accelerated the growth of shooting in the country. There’s no doubt about that…And had we had maybe four or five finalists, things would have felt a lot better in terms of that the performances were really up there but maybe luck did not favour us.”
It won’t be long before the quota matches for the Paris Olympics begin next year. For a sport that’s played as much in the head as with the trigger, the shooters need to be fresh after almost four months of continuous shooting since the contingent flew for the camp in Croatia in mid-May.
However, it being an individual sport, the decision about when to come back or the duration of the break depends entirely on the shooter. The example of that can be seen in Manu Bhaker’s decision to go for the Junior World Championships in Peru later this month.
“According to me, the competitions are too early, immediately after the Olympics,” said Jung on the matter. “The shooters require rest because before the Olympics, there was almost two months of continuous training and then the Olympics. So you need to have a break for both physical and mental well-being. There is a lot of stress, whether you accept it or not. You need to relax.”
“Everybody who was at the Olympics, everybody, should have taken a break.”

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