Indian shooting: Biting the bullet

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has won a general round of applause for taking the initiative to improve its working, even though the report, by a committee appointed by it, has squarely blamed the federation for not monitoring the preparation of the shooters in a more responsible manner for the Rio Olympics.

Abhinav Bindra headed a four-member review committee that identified the reasons for shooting not winning a single medal at the Rio Olympics.   -  K. BHAGYAPRAKASH

Jitu Rai lacked expert guidance.   -  PTI

Heena Sidhu lost focus by competing in two events in Rio.   -  PTI

Gurpreet Singh didn't get enough time to train with Ralf Schumann, the legendary shooter.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

In Indian sports, the biggest missing points have been transparency and accountability. In such a scenario the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) not only did the right thing to trust its best athlete, Olympic and World Champion Abhinav Bindra, to head a committee to study the drying up of Olympic medals, but also make the report public.

On the one hand when the Supreme Court is trying to compel the Cricket Board to stick to the suggested reforms by the Lodha Committee, the NRAI has won a general round of applause for taking the initiative to improve the system, even though the report squarely blamed the federation for not monitoring the preparation of the shooters in a more responsible manner for the Rio Olympics.

After winning a gold, two silvers and a bronze in all in the three Olympics, from Athens to London, Indian shooting had a rude awakening when it failed to win a medal in the Rio Games, despite having a dozen shooters competing in 18 events.

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The coaches were forthright in saying that some of the leading shooters like Gagan Narang and Manavjit Singh Sandhu did not prepare judiciously, especially in terms of their physical readiness. One had gained weight alarmingly, while the other had lost weight dramatically, both leading to technical complications.

Moreover, the young Ayonika Paul had failed to listen to coach Suma Shirur and apparently got carried away with the funds provided for preparation. Another talented rifle shooter Apurvi Chandela had suffered frost bite during a cryotherapy session and it continued to affect her preparation, with a lot of commotion in her apartment complex on the night before her competition at the end of the opening ceremony, causing a further setback to her chances of a good performance.

The best shooter in the country, Jitu Rai, with World Championship silver, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold, apart from half a dozen medals in World Cups including two golds, did not have the right preparation in terms of expert guidance. He did make the air pistol final and placed eighth, before missing out on the free pistol final with a penultimate shot of 7 out of 10.

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Interestingly, Jitu Rai won the free pistol silver in the World Cup Final after the Olympics, and also handled the air pistol so well that he emerged the “champion of champions” in a combined event for men and women pistol shooters who won medals in the World Cup Finals in Italy. He was rewarded with a cash prize of 5000 euros, but missed the many millions that he could have gained with an Olympic medal.

It was the same situation as Gagan Narang winning the World Cup Final gold in air rifle in 2008 after the Olympics, with world record scores. Gagan was unlucky then to miss out on the final with a score of 595, on a countback following a tie, while Bindra went on to capture the gold after shooting 596 in qualification in the Beijing Olympics.

The challenge at the Olympics is much more than in any other competition. In fact, Heena Sidhu had felt that it was too much to bear in her maiden appearance in the Olympics in London in 2012. She went on to compete in two events in Rio which proved disastrous, as it took the focus away from her performance in her primary event, air pistol.

Mairaj Ahmad Khan and Abhinav Bindra showed the virtues of utilising the funds properly with world class guidance from the right personnel, even though both narrowly missed the race to the medal. Bindra finished fourth as he lost the tie shoot while Mairaj lost out on a spot in the knock-out phase, in a shoot-off after being tied on 121.

Gurpreet Singh trained with the king of rapid fire pistol, Ralf Schumann, who had won three Olympic gold medals and two World Championship golds. He did very well to place seventh with a total of 581, when six made the final. Had he got more time with Schumann, perhaps he could have followed in the footsteps of Vijay Kumar who had won a silver on his maiden appearance in London in the same event.

Prakash Nanjappa and Kynan Chenai were the other shooters who tried hard with the expertise and resources available, but could not get their act right. Chain Singh went to the Olympics with a medical problem and that took his focus away.

While looking at the performances, it was found that the system tended to rely heavily on the talent and energy of the shooters to fight the odds, rather than give them a good grounding with the right administration and guidance.

The major issue was not utilising the funds available from the government to hire competent and committed coaches who would have helped the shooters realise their potential.

It remains to be seen how committed the NRAI will be to implement the suggestions. One good move was to cancel the training camp, and have it more scientifically organised as suggested by the report.

If it shows the same sincerity and corrects its faults, the shooting federation will become a pioneer in Indian sports.

The rest of the national sports federations may not muster courage for such an independent scrutiny and mend their ways, as yet.

If the markets are tapped to generate revenue, while at the same time engaging competent personnel to take care of the technical aspects of the sport, Indian shooting will definitely deliver the big medals in future in the best of competitions, including the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.