Chasing an Olympic dream together

Ronak Pandit with Heena Sidhu and the renowned sports performance coach, Dr. Pierre Beauchamp (right), at a shooting range in Hanover.-Ronak Pandit with Heena Sidhu and the renowned sports performance coach, Dr. Pierre Beauchamp (right), at a shooting range in Hanover.

“It is team effort and I feel great that we are all working in harmony. With every performance, I see Heena Sidhu’s potential. That is what fires me and everyone else to do even better,” says the champion shooter’s husband and trainer Ronak Pandit. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

Behind every successful woman, there is a man! This is the case with Heena Sidhu, whose husband Ronak Pandit has played a significant role in harnessing her talent.

Ronak, son of Ashok Pandit, a pioneer in Indian pistol shooting, and husband of talented shooter Heena Sidhu, the World Cup Final gold medal winner, is only 28 and is of the view that there is plenty of shooting ahead of him. He has been a champion himself, winning gold medals in the Commonwealth Games and the SAF Games with records to boot. Ronak is also proud of the fact that he is the only shooter to have beaten multiple Asian Games gold medal winner Jaspal Rana in the SAF Games.

At 13, within six months of taking up shooting, Ronak won the National junior gold. He had also won gold medals in air pistol, rapid-fire pistol, free pistol, sports pistol and standard pistol as a junior in the Asian Championship.

Ronak has represented India in about 55 competitions and won nearly 40 medals, the majority of them gold.

Ronak said that he needed some time to overcome the problems with his shooting and the wrong reflexes that he had picked up. “I did all that I could to sort out the problems but I was only getting more and more entangled. So, the best thing was to leave it, forget it and start afresh. Around that time, I met Heena and we clicked as friends. Then things progressed and our dreams became one. So, I have not really shifted my Olympic dream, I am only hoping to realise it through her. I make her do all the things I would have done had I been training,” said Ronak.

“I use my experience and knowledge. I keep researching on what more can be done, and the best way to do it. This helps Heena to focus more on her training. I double up as her back-office, her manager, her trainer and I am glad we are producing great results. In the process, I am also finding the path to better shooting. I am learning something new every day. I am very nearly at the end of my exile and will soon be starting with an open mind. All this work while I was away will only help me train better and emerge a stronger competitor. So, my dream is still alive and in a way I am working towards it,” he said.

Though Ronak feels that he could also have been on the podium like his wife, he has been wise to understand the relative complexities. “During some of our greatest moments, I have also felt extreme lows because despite feeling on top of the world over Heena’s victories, the thought does occur that even I could have been on that podium. But now I am very clear and have a firm grip over myself,” he said.

From a good student, Ronak has progressed to become a good teacher. “Often I put myself in Heena’s shoes, find answers and advise her. And when she implements those answers and wins, it is as good as me winning,” remarked Ronak.

However, Ronak is not keen to take all the credit. He knows that there is a team behind Heena’s success and coach Anatolii Piddubnyi has played an important role.

“It is team effort and I feel great that we are all working in harmony. With every performance, I see Heena’s potential. That is what fires me and everyone else to do even better. We make sure that she gets the best from the team because she is capable of doing wonders. Mark my words, she will take the standard of shooting so high that it will seem unrealistic. And I, being part of her team, would have had a role to play when she makes history,” said Ronak.

The young man has not restricted himself to training Heena; he runs the Ronak Pandit Shooting Centre in Mumbai and hopes to create champions by teaching the right basics and sound technique to his wards.

“When introduced properly, this sport does appeal to the masses and the classes. It is quite addictive. I have seen so many shooters train the wrong way and pay attention to the most insignificant things. Once I took a break, I decided that it was time to share my knowledge and help improve the scores of other shooters who were working equally hard. Many discouraged me from sharing the secrets of good shooting. You cannot win if you are scared. So, I went ahead and discussed every nuance of the sport. I know the importance of correct basic training, which others seem to ignore because of their talent. Well, talent can only take you up to a point; it will crumble when you are stressed beyond a point,” Ronak explained.

Being a good student, Heena also accompanies Ronak and talks to the shooters. “They feel a lot more excited talking to her as she is the current champion. It motivates them,” he said.

Ronak is determined to teach the youngsters the right basics and ensure sound coaching. “Everyone has the same problem — the lack of understanding of the technique of a good shot. Most of the shooters learn by hit and miss! Worse, some are coached by people who have no clue about shooting.

“Today, we have a handful of champions because only a handful of them understand the technique correctly and are guided well. Has anyone thought that there could be shooters far more talented than Heena, Abhinav Bindra or Gagan Narang, but never made it only because they were shown the wrong way? You never had a champion from the army until they appointed a professional coach. In a few years, you had a Vijay Kumar winning a silver medal in the Olympics,” Ronak argued.

Ronak was of the view that it is important to learn from the foreign coaches and become self-reliant. He hoped that there would be a healthy scenario when quality would fetch support irrespective of what the sport is. “Today there are some sponsors helping athletes. Still, a lot needs to be done. When we are preparing with a budget of say a $1000 and our competitors are training with a budget of $10,000, it is not an even-playing field. Yet, we are improving and have started beating them. If we have to become champions and win consistently, we need better financial support.

“The youth of this country are a very confident and talented lot. I urge the corporate world to invest well in us and assure that the returns would be fruitful. Even the media needs to become a little more responsible by dedicating a certain space to Olympic sport and not fill pages with just cricket. It pains when there is no congratulatory message after Heena becomes a champion with a world record. But, as her trainer, I tell her we are here because we love the sport and we will never forget that,” Ronak said.