Anjali Bhagwat: ‘Indian shooters now seen as a threat by other nations’

The former distinguished shooter hailed the healthy rivalry between India’s “newcomers” and seniors.

Anjali Bhagwat (centre) alongside Viren Rasquinha (left) and Aparna Popat (right) at an event in Mumbai on Thursday.   -  Vivek Bendre

A healthy rivalry between a competent crop of junior shooters and the established ones has contributed to the good health of Indian shooting, according to former distinguished shooter Anjali Bhagwat.

Bhagwat, now a coach, was optimistic about India’s performances in the upcoming Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast, Australia. She said, “All our juniors are giving tough competition to senior shooters; half of the Indian contingent (selected for the Commonwealth Games) are all newcomers. The seniors always have pressure to perform, whereas the newcomers have nothing to lose, they have to go and shoot and support the team cause.”

The squad chosen for the Games is a mix of new and established shooters. Bhagwat pointed to a win-win situation and the overall benefit this has for the Indian team. She said, “All our juniors are giving tough competition to senior shooters, half of the Indian contingent (selected for the Commonwealth Games) are all newcomers. The seniors always have pressure to perform, whereas the newcomers have nothing to lose, they have to go and shoot and support the team cause.”

‘Good mindset’

Bhagwat, a Khel Ratna awardee and Asian Games medallist, highlighted the high scores by juniors and their winning habit as positive signs of a fresh crop of champions emerging. “The juniors have produced consistent scores at world level, are in a good mindset and very confident of performances against the Australians and the English against whom they are going to compete (at the Commonwealth Games). Indian shooters are now seen as a threat by other nations.”

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Disappointment at Rio Olympics kick-started the change. “We messed it up last time in Rio,” Bhagwat said, adding: “Our policies were not in place, federation (NRAI) plans were not followed, there were no national camps. Now due to good competition and right kind of exposure, juniors and seniors peaked at the right time. High-level performances will happen, medals at the Commonwealth Games are only a bonus.”

Indian coaches working with juniors was another catalyst for the change, Bhagwat points out. “The federation has shown faith in local coaches, which helped a lot in development of junior talent we now see. Mental rapport between shooters and coach is very critical in an individual sport, which we could not establish with foreign coaches. They expect everything to be perfect, whereas in India, you have to struggle for each and every aspect… accessories, training camp, the venue and the schedule.”

‘Youngsters on the peak’

Former internationals-turned-coaches have been familiar with the set-up. Bhagwat said, “Local coaches know our mental make-up [and] our policies and so are better equipped to mould our athletes and prepare him [or] her to be mentally strong. Deepali (Deshpande) and Jaspal (Rana) have taken up the junior squad responsibilities. The youngsters are on the peak right now.”

Bhagwat is one of the experts on the Sony Pictures Network panel for the Gold Coast event and was spoke on the sidelines of a promotional event ahead of the Games.