Anjali Bhagwat says the policy changes by National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), effort put in by former internationals-turned-coaches and timely support from NGOs are the contributing factors to the shooters claiming a rich medal haul at the Asian Games 2018.
She points out that with Asian level on par with Olympic standards, the prospects of quality performances can be expected of Indian athletes at 2020 Tokyo Olympics . Known names from the past working as coaches are Jaspal Rana, Deepali Deshpande, Samaresh Jung, Suma Shirur, besides CWG -medallist Ronak Pandit.
The Indian shooters had returned from Rio with no medals for the first time since Athens 2004 and only two finalists (Abhinav Bindra and Jitu Rai). Two years later, a new crop and couple of known names delivered on demand at Indonesia’s Palembang range (two gold, four silver and four bronze).
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“Everything changed after Rio. The selection policies were put up on the NRAI website prior to the National Games. The juniors program had started two years before and Indians were put in charge. Shooters were sent for each junior competition, be it the World Juniors or Asian Juniors. We are now tasting the fruits of these decisions.”
Explaining the reasons for equating the competition at Asian Games with Olympics, the Khel Ratna awardee said: “Asian standards has always been high, equivalent to the Olympic Games. Shooters from China, Korea, Japan compete in World Cup finals, participants form USA or Germany qualify sometimes, usually these Asian countries are always present at majors. Winning a medal at the Asian Games is a pointer to preparations going along the right lines. At one time, we used to just dream of getting an Olympic quota. Now we are sure about gaining quotas, so performing well at the Olympics is what drives us.”
Referring to inputs from numerous Indian coaches and effect on performances, she said: “Indian coaching talent is being accepted and recognised by the authorities. Jaspal and Deepali used to look after the juniors, now Samaresh and Suma have joined the pool of coaches. Ronak is there. Our coaches are so experienced, their guidance made an impact and youngsters responded with performances. Earlier we had one foreign coach and he was expected to look after more than 50 shooters. We now have separate junior, youth squads and coaches for each group.”
Over the years, NGOs stepped in by drawing up support plans for shooters associated with them. Anjali focussed on the value of package available for medal hopefuls. "A shooter supported by NGos need not waste time hunting for specialists like sports psychologists, physiotherapists, even doctors in case of injury, like in case of Sanjeev Rajput and Rahi Sarnobat. The main point is saving time. Everything is ready at the right time,” she said, adding: “I don’t want to take away credit from the shooters for Asian Games medals. Talent, hard work, passion to excel is always there. This complete package matters a lot.”
Shooting: Down to individual skills
The next stop for Indians, youngsters and established names, is the ongoing ISSF World Championships in South Korea.
“The real test starts now. Being established shooters or a first-time Asian Games medal winners, people know them and expect similar performances at the World Championship. They need to mature, get used to such things. The young shooters will need to put in practice, psychological preparations like simulating final matches. This generation is bright and have the attitude to deliver on a bigger stage, to aim for a podium finish. We cannot predict about medals (at Tokyo), I am very confident about performances due to competition from within.”