Prof. Sunny Thomas: ‘Our shooting system is as perfect as possible’

Sunny Thomas welcomes Jaspal Rana to the ‘Dronacharya club’, praises him for his wards' success.

Prof. Sunny Thomas and Jaspal Rana, the Dronacharya coaches of Indian shooting. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A coach is at his proud best when his ward becomes a Dronacharya.

The first Dronacharya of Indian shooting, Prof. Sunny Thomas, was understandably elated about one of his prime wards, Jaspal Rana, winning the Dronacharya award. “Jaspal, you are like my son. I have scolded you also. Welcome to the Dronacharya club,” said Prof. Thomas, with considerable warmth, in a recent online interaction.

Jaspal’s entire shooting career, which he closed in 2006 after multiple gold medals in the Doha Asian Games, spanned within the coaching spell of Prof. Thomas that lasted till 2012. The former national coach recalled vividly how Jaspal overcame a painful knee to shoot the World Championship junior gold with a world record in 1994 in Milan. He also recalled the vibrant performances of Jaspal in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games that year, to revolutionise Indian shooting.

Acknowledging Jaspal’s role as the chief national junior coach, Prof. Thomas praised him for his wards making the senior team, winning many accolades and qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. Reciprocating the warmth, Jaspal said he owed everything to his coaches Prof. Thomas and Tibor Gonczol.

‘Mentor, friend, brother’

“You were more than a coach, a mentor, friend and a brother,” said Jaspal, about the significant role played by Prof. Thomas in grooming him. “This honour is not just for me. There is a big team behind me,” Jaspal said with humility.

Viewed as a hard disciplinarian who keeps the young shooters away from their mobile phones, ice creams and friends, Jaspal said he had learnt good basics from his coaches.

Prof. Thomas remembered that bringing about discipline in the team was a prime task when he took over as the national coach early in the 1990s. He earned the respect and trust of the shooters with a fair system that led to high-quality performances in the international arena. “The action was transparent. If they were shooting well, they were in the national team. Gradually, I won their confidence and it worked miracles,” said Prof. Thomas.

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Significantly, all the Olympic medals in shooting, the silver of Rajyavardhan Rathore in Athens, the gold of Abhinav Bindra in Beijing, and the silver for Vijay Kumar and bronze of Gagan Narang in London, were won during the regime of Prof. Thomas.

‘Disciplined’

“As a coach I have become more disciplined,” revealed Jaspal.

Stressing the importance of getting up early in the morning, Jaspal said his day started at 4.30 a.m.

Saying he had learnt a lot from the late Tibor Gonczol, Jaspal said he realised the importance of working with the “back benchers” to help in their progress. “When it comes to the World Championships, the Olympics and Youth Olympics, the coach and student become one,” he said, highlighting the synchronised thought process.

India topped the medals table in each of the four World Cups last year in rifle and pistol, and followed that up by topping the World Cup Finals in China. “I had said long back said that if anybody can challenge China, it will be India. Our shooting system and selection system are as perfect as possible,” said Prof. Thomas.

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Looking ahead, Jaspal conceded that it was important to resume training for the national squad even though the shooters were all practising in their home, with the best of equipment. “The situation is same for the whole world. China may have started training long back,” said Jaspal, quite convinced that every Indian shooter going to Tokyo had the potential to win an Olympic medal.

“Let us not put any pressure on them. They are too young to understand,” warned Jaspal.

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