It was Rio all over again in Tokyo but Indian shooters shine elsewhere
IMAGE: Indian shooters crumbled under the mighty Olympic pressure. Photograph: Gurinder Osan/PTI
The Indian shooters failed miserably when it mattered the most and on a stage where they were primed for success, making 2021 one of their worst years in recent memory.
The outstanding results everywhere else, at other times of the last 11 months, were applauded but they were never supposed to mitigate the extreme pain caused by the debacle at the Tokyo Olympics.
They entered Japanese shores with hopes of winning a handful of medals, but returned empty-handed instead, as the horrors of Rio 2016 revisited, even after a raft of changes had been implemented by the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI).
As the fancied 15-strong squad crumbled under the mighty Olympic pressure, it belied a billion hopes after promising to deliver like never before.
Excellent performances at the rechristened President’s Cup (which used to be the season-ending ISSF World Cup Finals) and the Junior World Championships in Lima did bring some smiles back, but the Indian team’s horror run at Tokyo remains fresh in the memory.
So bad was the outing in the Japanese capital, that it forced NRAI chief Raninder Singh to express his disappointment even before the campaign was completed.
IMAGE: Indian shooters practicing at the 50m range at the Asaka Shooting Range in Tokyo. Photograph: Kind courtesy NRAI/Twitter
Singh had talked about a major revamp on the sidelines of the Olympics but who will fall under its purview is something that’s still not clear, although he did say that even the administrators’ performance would be reviewed by an independent body.
So far, in a drastic move, the NRAI has decided to end the contracts of all the national coaches that were involved with the Indian shooting team. This is being done with an aim to revamp the structure before the start of the 2022 season.
The federation has not revealed the names of those who will be appointed in place of the outgoing coaches, which includes some well-established names who have contributed immensely to the growth of the shooters and the sport in general in the country.
Needless to say, the trigger for this move was the Olympic debacle and the intra-squad factionalism, which also involved coaches. The drama marred the build-up to the Games and came out in the open as the team’s disastrous campaign unfolded in Tokyo.
The NRAI got former India shooter and coach Ronak Pandit to train medal hope Manu Bhaker after she fell out with junior national coach Jaspal Rana. It did try to sort things out but some of them, perhaps, remained unaddressed.
IMAGE: India’s Sanjeev Rajput. Photograph: Albert Perez/Getty Images
The top brass in the NRAI had no qualms admitting that the team was below-par in the biggest multi-sporting event.
They also don’t shy away from talking about implementing wholesale changes but, going by the experience in the last two Olympics, there is no doubt that more is required than what is being done currently.
If they stop after only changing the coaching and support staff, the story is not likely to be any different at the Paris Olympics, which is scheduled to be held in less than three years’ time.
“Definitely the performances have not been on expected lines and I have spoken of an overhaul of coaching and support staff,” Raninder said.
He is well aware that problem is concerning the game’s mental aspects.
“I feel something is lacking in getting our shooters prepared for these big occasions, because clearly the talent is there and we have seen it,” the NRAI boss said.
Questions were raised about why the shooters were not able to replicate their excellent showing at the ISSF World Cups at the Olympics.
While they faltered at the biggest stage, fortunes swung dramatically in the Junior World Championships in Peru in October, when Indian shooters won medals by the bagful and topped the standings for the first time.
The tournament saw the emergence of new talents such as Delhi’s Namya Kapoor, who fired her way to the gold medal ahead of her celebrated compatriot Bhaker in the women’s 25m pistol event.
At 14 years, she created an Indian record of winning the gold medal at an international shooting tournament, raising fresh hopes for the future.
India also did exceedingly well at the President’s Cup with the likes of young Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary once again reminding the world of their abilities with their fine showing in Wroclaw, Poland months after they failed to live up to the expectations at the Olympics.
In Lima, Bhaker became the first Indian shooter to win the highest number of medals (5) in a single edition of the ISSF Junior World Championships. These included four gold medals and a bronze.
The Indian shooters’ results, before and after the Olympics, makes it clear that the problem is mental fortitude or the lack of it, at the quadrennial extravaganza.
And the sooner it is addressed, the better it is for Indian shooting.
Moving away from the ranges, there was no change of guard at the top of the hierarchy as Raninder became the apex body’s president for an unprecedented fourth time with a landslide victory over BSP MP Shyam Singh Yadav.
The NRAI went ahead with the polls despite the impediments it faced after the petition filed by Yadav in the Delhi High Court, followed by the sports ministry’s directive to initiate elections afresh.
There was no stay order from the high court and it was found that the incumbent had a legitimate claim at re-election.