Kolkata: If shooting had paved the way for India’s pursuit of individual Olympic medals in the new millennium - the contingent’s campaign in Tokyo 2020 had been nothing short of a disaster.
A lot of India’s hope for a double-digit medal tally revolved around a young and talented group of shooters, which included a host of gold medallists in the last ISSF World Cup, but the 15-member squad returned a blank with young Saurabh Chaudhury being the only finalist in his event. Much touted names like Manu Bhaker, Divyansh Singh Panwar, Apurvi Chandela and others seemed overawed by the occasion while National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) is now headed for an implosion and the blame game had begun.
The NRAI president Raninder Singh’s announcement to overhaul the coaching staff even when some events were left to be completed left a sour taste in the mouth. Bhaker, a world No.1 shooter at 19 years, hit out at national coach Jaspal Rana for giving her a tough time and the last is yet to be heard on the subject.
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‘‘Yes, the result has been nothing short of a disaster. I understand the frustration of the NRAI as they had seriously tried to overhaul the system after the copout in Rio 2016,’’ remarked Joydeep Karmakar, a contemporary of Abhinav Bindra who finished fourth in his 50 metres rifle prone event in the 2012 London Olympics.
There had been a series of larger-than-life characters in the sport who gave India medals since Athens 2004 (Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, silver), Beijing 2008 (Abhinav Bindra, gold), London 2012 (Vijay kumar, silver and Gagan Narang, bronze). The medals dried up in Rio five years ago, after which a Bindra-led panel recommended a slew of reforms to the way shooting was being run in the country.
Speaking to Gulf News during a telephonic interview, Karmakar, a Arjuna awardee and one of the most respected coaches in the fraternity said it would be unfair to blame the predominantly young squad for the hype around them. ‘‘See, the shooters have never claimed that they are the favourites, it was the media which created that perception. They earned top rankings on the merit of their performance in events like the World Cup and hence, the weight of expectations was created,’’ he said.
Asked if it was a case of the shooters flattering to deceive in Tokyo after landing 30 medals in the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi in March, Karmakar explained the fine print. ‘‘Please note that more than 50% of our medals came from non-Olympic events. The competition was also not that steep as a number of leading shooting nations like China, Korea or Germany did not send their top guns,’’ he said without mincing words.
While the overwhelming performance of the World Cup was certainly instrumental in building the hype, Karmakar felt that there could be two factors in the selection procedure for Olympics which needed a bit of tweaking. ‘‘The loss of competition time during 2020 due to the first round of the pandemic meant that our shooters had actually qualified on the basis of their performances in 2019. This possibly did not make an allowance for the current form - may be we could have waited till the cut-off period of May 2021 to finalise the list,’’ he said, adding that the award of ‘‘bonus points’’ in the quota year often didn’t recognise the true merit of a shooter.
Karmakar, however, didn’t buy the fact that the average young age of the shooters was a deterrent in their abilities to handle pressure. “In a level-playing field, no one is a kid. We will protect them…but at the same time, it’s our responsibility to make them strong and agile in tough situations. Somewhere we need to realise that it’s not about guns, balls or racquet, it’s your mind which is strongest equipment which can win medals at Olympics. We need introspection,” he said.
Fair enough but should there be a shake-up, is he ready to take over any coaching responsibility in the federation? ‘‘I am not going to put my hand up but should the NRAI need my help for the national cause, I am always game,’’ Karmakar signed off.