Jaspal Rana: ‘Commonwealth Games helped Indian shooting flourish’

Jaspal Rana’s feats in 1998, 2002 and 2006 aided the growth of Indian shooting. In a candid interview, Jaspal speaks about his career, the CWG, and the state of Indian shooting today.

Unwavering focus: Over the years, Jaspal Rana had to face a lot of criticism, but he remains committed to doing his bit for Indian shooting.

Unwavering focus: Over the years, Jaspal Rana had to face a lot of criticism, but he remains committed to doing his bit for Indian shooting. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Jaspal Rana’s feats in 1998, 2002 and 2006 aided the growth of Indian shooting. In a candid interview, Jaspal speaks about his career, the CWG, and the state of Indian shooting today.

Jaspal Rana was the pioneer of Indian shooting, capturing the imagination of the entire nation from a young age, as he won tons of medals at the Commonwealth Games, SAF Games, Asian Games and the junior World Championships.

It is no surprise that despite the remarkable deeds of Samaresh Jung and Gagan Narang, Jaspal remains the most successful Indian athlete in the Commonwealth Games with nine gold, four silver and two bronze medals. For 16 years, he persisted and performed, winding up with three gold medals in the Asian Games in 2006.

The 46-year-old has been successful as a coach and moulded many to world standards. He was bestowed with the Arjuna Award and Padma Shri when he was young, and the Dronacharya Award recently as a young coach. Over the years, Jaspal had to face a lot of criticism, but he remains committed to doing his bit for Indian shooting. In this candid interview with  Sportstar, Jaspal speaks about his career, the Commonwealth Games, and the state of Indian shooting today.

Your memories of the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada, in 1994...

I was too young then. The atmosphere was great, very friendly, very healthy. Mansher Singh was there. Ashok Pandit – people may think that he is my biggest enemy, someone who has given me a lot of pain because of the circumstances, but he was always there for me in the early days. He was a good team-mate. He was very enjoyable company, but very competitive. He didn’t like being overtaken, but he helped me in a big way. The president [of the National Rifle Association of India] Kumar Surendra Singh was there.

That year was the foundation of your career, as you won medals in the World Championships and the Asian Games.

Yes, it was a fantastic year. I did a lot of travelling. I was in Hungary before going to Canada for the Commonwealth Games, then went to Italy for the World Championship, and then to Hiroshima for the Asian Games. It was hectic. I was young and away from my family. We had a great atmosphere and I could focus on my shooting with great guidance from Tibor Gonczol, my mentor and coach.

How happy were you to win all those medals at such a young age?

I was very happy. I had a healthy mindset. I was not running after scores. The focus was to keep improving and to do my best in competition. The joy of success kept me going. I was lucky that social media was not there. There was minimum distraction from shooting. I was a little playful, but when I had to be disciplined, I worked hard and prepared well.

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Now, people are so aggressive to project every small progress on the social media. It is not healthy. They don’t understand the overall repercussions. It is fake popularity. You train and progress quietly, to show your class in competition. People are putting too much pressure on themselves and crack under it.

The great thing about Tibor Gonczol or national coach Prof. Sunny Thomas was that they never changed my technique, or my style of shooting or my approach. They instilled in me [the moral], that discipline was most important, both in competition and in training. That helped me win all those medals.

At the peak of his powers: Jaspal Rana (right) and Samaresh Jung pose after winning gold in the men’s 25-metre standard pistol pairs event at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. The Manchester Games were his most successful Games as he won four gold, a silver and a bronze.

At the peak of his powers: Jaspal Rana (right) and Samaresh Jung pose after winning gold in the men’s 25-metre standard pistol pairs event at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. The Manchester Games were his most successful Games as he won four gold, a silver and a bronze. | Photo Credit: AP

Do you agree that Indian shooting flourished over the years because of the foundation made at the Commonwealth Games?

Yes. Commonwealth Games has played a very important part. It is sad that they dropped shooting from the schedule for Birmingham to deny us all those medals. Even in 2002, when Manchester hosted the Commonwealth Games, the shooting happened in Bisley near London. They could have easily found a way to continue shooting. Don’t forget that we give the best business for the British ammunition.

There is no worry of security from shooting. All the shooters, their arms and ammunition are well documented and the movement recorded and registered. The shooters are the most disciplined lot. We reach the airport four hours in advance to finish all the travel formalities for arms and ammunition.

Of course, our standards have gone up so much that we don’t need the Commonwealth Games any more to build our shooters. But, all the same, they need to be careful. The quota places that we win for the Olympics and the world-class medals we win round the year and in most of the events do show that we have progressed phenomenally. Earlier, Commonwealth Games, with its pairs and individual events built us up nicely for the Asian Games and the World Championships. We have plenty of international competition now, thanks to the government support.

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You shot so many different pistol events and a medal was expected from each one of them. Do you feel that you could have done better in the World Championships and Olympics if allowed to focus on one or two events?

For 16 years I performed in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Tibor asked me again and again, and tried to prepare me for the Olympics. If I was focussed on standard pistol and centre-fire pistol, there was a reason for it. They were non-Olympic events. So be it. I did not have the mindset to give up on something I was so good at and which gave Indian shooting such an identity, and pursue something I was not so good at.

I did it all my own way. It was not easy to shoot the scores of 590 and 589 in centre-fire pistol, without all that training. Had I compromised [on] my time [and focussed on] other events, I may not have been that good in anything. I got much more from my shooting than what I would have ever dreamt. Those two events – standard pistol and centre-fire pistol – were very important for me. They were important in getting Indian shooting the recognition and the progress that it has made thus far.

I did shoot in the Olympics. I thought I shot brilliantly in air pistol and free pistol.

Don’t get me wrong. I had all the support and the resources I needed. I did try rapid-fire pistol after Tibor put me into it. But a lot was achieved in 1998, 2002 and 2006 in the events that I was very good at. All the support for shooting was triggered because of that. I didn’t want to change any of that just because I had to be at my best in the Olympics, for which there was no guarantee. It was not meant for me, and I have no regrets. I am happy, satisfied and contented with what I could achieve.

How happy are you with what you achieved both as a shooter and coach in the Commonwealth Games?

I am more than happy. It was easy to perform as a shooter because the pistol was in your hand, and you had to execute. Pressure is much more for a coach than a player. The coach stands behind the shooter. Nothing is in your hands. You have told them what they have to do, and hope that they execute. When the shooter looks at you, you should understand and be able to reply without uttering a word. Performance will vary like we have high and low tide. The challenge is to help them peak at the right time. I enjoyed working with all the shooters. I am not naming them. They did a lot of hard work. They left ice cream, they left social media, they left mobile phones. We worked on every small detail. The bond between coach and the athlete is very important. That is built on trust. The shooters are very young and vulnerable. There is a lot of information and they have a lot of questions. You need to have the patience and answers to all the questions. I am happy with the roles that I played.

What would you like to tell the aspiring shooters and coaches?

The shooters are brilliant. They shoot scores much better than what the coaches may have done. You can’t teach them how [to do it]. You have to understand their body, mind and soul. It is important to know what they want and what they do. No shooter follows the coach, the coach has to follow the shooter.

Shooters keep shifting from one coach to another. One has to find the right coach and stick to him or her for a long time, to achieve good results. Coaches need to have a certain basic standard. You can’t do a course without having a good level of shooting background, and claim that you are a coach. It could be disastrous to our shooting ecosystem. One should have at least competed at the national level and shot good scores.

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