Saurabh Chaudhary’s precipitous decline, after winging his way to the top of pistol shooting with unflappable temperament and incredible talent, appeared perplexing until one ran into the outspoken Jaspal Rana.
Rana, as is his wont, minced no words while panning the national shooting federation and some coaches for their “utter lack of willingness” to reach out to the reigning Asian Games champion in his hour of need.
The Dronacharya awardee believed the absence of help, in its own way, played a part in Chaudhary fading into oblivion after reaching dizzying heights.
Chaudhary was the toast of the Indian shooting team after he shattered the world record on way to a gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang.
However, five years later, he is one of the biggest names missing from the country’s contingent, for the upcoming edition of the quadrennial extravaganza in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.
Rana, who was serving as the junior national team coach when Chaudhary was making rapid strides by winning medals at almost all levels, is sad at the way the 21-year-old shooter from UP’s Baghpat has been handled in his difficult phase.
“When he was winning medals everywhere, everyone was trying to get close to him and take credit for his success. It seemed like he had many coaches at that point in time, but my question is, where are those coaches now.
“Where were they all these times. I can’t see any of them now. I don’t really know what he is doing right now,” Rana told PTI during an interaction.
The legendary pistol shooter saw Chaudhary’s rise from close quarters, and was also the coach of the Indian junior team when he won a historic gold at the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires.
That was the time when Chaudhary was at his best, winning medals, including gold, at regular intervals across the world.
“Besides the so-called coaches, what has the federation (National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) done for him all these while. Yeah, he doesn’t matter to anyone now because the funds keep coming to the federation,” Rana said.
Given that Chaudhary was extremely reticent about his personal life as well as his career in shooting, Rana, who has always implored his wards to stay away from distractions such as social media, at times, finds it difficult to accept the manner in which the reigning Asian Games pistol champion fell by the wayside.
“Taking into consideration his calm and composed nature, his personality, and most important, his talent, I thought that he is someone who would be able to manage the difficult phase and wriggle out of it.
“But then, he must have got confused (because of advice from various coaches), and that did not help, probably,” Rana said.
Heading into the Tokyo Olympics, Chaudhary was seen as a bigger medal prospect than even Neeraj Chopra in javelin throw. But then, things panned out differently for them and while one scripted history in the athletics arena to become India’s ‘golden boy’, the other exited the scene without making any noise after promising so much.
The adage ‘sport is a great leveller’, is best exemplified by the two sportsmen’s contrasting results in the last two years.
Rana, known for his many comebacks during a successful career as an athlete, wants Chaudhary to give it another go, as not doing so by such a talented shooter would be a loss for the country.
“A sportsperson is bound to meet failures in his career. I also faced it a few times, but then, I tried and got up on every occasion. He must work towards that, and he definitely can,” he said.
The pistol great is ready to help the young shooter regain his touch, but for that to happen, he wants Chaudhary to reach out to him as he “doesn’t want to impose”.
“See I don’t want to impose anything on anyone. I feel many people carry the impression that I am very strict, I am this and that. If he reaches out to me I am always there to help anyone, including Saurabh, who is an excellent shooter.
“You look at the scores he was getting, even in Tokyo. I have always believed that he is someone who has it in him to win a medal at the Olympics, and I feel the same even now,” Rana said of the man, who was once setting the stage on fire with his shooting prowess.
In his latest international outing, Chaudhary finished a lowly 30th in the 10m air pistol event of the ISSF World Cup in Rio de Janeiro recently, a far cry from the purple patch of the not-too-distant past.
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