Why shooter Joydeep Karmakar doesn’t attend medal ceremonies

On this day in 2012, shooter Joydeep Karmakar missed out on an Olympic medal, finishing fourth in the 50m rifle prone event.

"To be honest, people did not have very high expectations of me," Joydeep said about his 2012 London Olympics journey.   -  MOHAMMED YOUSUF

To talk about shooter Joydeep Karmakar’s Olympic dream, one would have to rewind the clock back to the summer of 1998. Karmakar, only 19 then, was already blossoming under the media spotlight after his exceptional performances at the national trials.

He was asked to get his passport made so that he could go to Barcelona to participate in the junior category of the quadrennial ISSF World Shooting Championships. However, when he reached Delhi, he was told that the federation had decided against sending Indians competing in the 50m rifle prone event.

“Indians don’t pose a chance in the event, they said. ‘It doesn’t matter whether you go or do not go. We have historically been poor and will continue to remain the same,’ was all I got from them. Needless to mention, I cried a lot. It would have been my first international,” says Karmakar.

He shares the story eight years to the day when he finished fourth in the 50m rifle prone event at the London Olympics. He clawed back from a big deficit, but it was not to be.

Talking about the day in London, Karmakar says he was ready. “I was prepared, but wasn’t a world beater. To be honest, people did not have very high expectations of me. But my form lately had not been that poor. I was more or less on a consistent run.”

During the qualification round, Karmakar realised after 40 shots that he had already dropped five points and was trailing at the bottom end of the points table. “It was easy to break down then. Five points are a huge deal. True that the conditions weren’t great, but what I saw on the scoreboard was the closest you could get to elimination. I was there at the bottom... somewhere around the 30th rank in a field of 50 others,” he says.

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Karmakar, however, soon found an unlikely ally in the brisk wind that had set in. Shooters, competing in outdoor events, find it difficult dealing with the wind. Karmakar, however, used it to his advantage.

“The next 20 shots, I didn’t drop a point,” he says. To grasp his mastery of the tough conditions, one has to go back to his early days.

After 40 shots in the qualifying round, Joydeep had dropped five points but blazed through the next 20 shots to qualify for the final.   -  SANDEEP SAXENA

 

The 40-year-old, who is now teen shooting sensation Mehuli Ghosh’s mentor, from time to time, often found himself in financial difficulties as he pursued excellence.

“My journey has been difficult. My pet event was an expensive one. Added to that, the ammo and rifle, those days, were difficult to acquire. It took me 13 years to buy my own rifle. And that too, after I had applied for a loan. Until 2003, I used to borrow my rifles from the shooting club or SAI during camps. Strangely, my stint in the Indian junior team and most of my national medals came off borrowed rifles,” he says.

He started testing his abilities in unfavourable conditions. “I intentionally made it all the more difficult for myself; all because I should be ready for any and all kinds of trouble. Most shooters have a diary, which they maintain to note down technical aspects of the weapon. I never used a diary. I was ready to pull the trigger on any weapon you give me on any given day.”

Karmakar also, thus far, has never acquired the services of a personal coach. “I have never had a coach. A gardener at the club first taught me how to hold a rifle, the stance and other basics. Rest, has all been mere observation. Yes, however, I did have German coach Heinz Reinkemeier train me one-and-half months ahead of the Olympics on Abhinav Bindra’s recommendation.”

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His methods complemented his skills in London. When he was done with his 60 shots, Karmakar thought he didn’t stand a chance to progress, but when he overheard his name being discussed in the stands and press box, he thought maybe he had made the cut. But that was not to happen. “I saw nine names on the board. Nine! All tied at 595,” he says. Only five of the nine could make it to the next round.

100

Battling a cramp in his right calf, Joydeep shot all 10s in the final to finish fourth.   -  PTI

 

“As I stood there, face down at the mat, to avoid looking at the crowd and getting distracted, (India’s foreign pistol coach) Pavel Smirnov rushed up to me saying he needed five rounds of ammo for Vijay (Kumar), who had qualified for the 25m rapid fire pistol final. I dived into my bag and gave him whatever I could find. He left. I didn’t want distractions then. The fact that Vijay qualified for the finals made me think how close yet how far I was from the spot.”

Karmakar shot 51.6 in the shootoff to qualify seventh for the finals. The ISSF rule then made it mandatory that the qualification score had to be added to the score in the finals to consider medal finishes. “With the carry forward rule in place, it was a tough task for me — jumping up four places to ensure a medal.”

In the finals, Karmakar had one more problem to take care of. A cramp in his right calf saw him fight through excruciating pain. Although he shot all 10s, the distance was too much to recover. After the last shot, when he realised he had missed the bronze by 1.9 points he went on to kiss his rifle and bang his clenched fist on the mat. While Belarus' Sergei Martynov won the gold, Belgium's Lionel Cox and Slovania's Rajmond Debevec clinched silver and bronze, respectively.

“We always say, slipped to the third place. Slipped to the second position. But when it comes to going from the third to fourth, you don’t slip. You fall off a cliff instead,” Karmakar says.

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The hurt remains, but he acknowledges the pats. “With the kind of gesture I received from then Sports Minister Ajay Maken, Randhir Singh and Raninder Singh (the sport’s top administrators), I felt I didn’t lose out on anything. What was most special was how the crowd had come to greet me at the airport. The response was overwhelming.”

Karmakar, however, doesn’t mask his disappointment. “But truth be told, when I saw Vijay receive the silver medal that day, I broke down completely. I realised what I had missed. From that day onwards, I have never attended a medal ceremony. The music they play at the ceremony haunts me till date.”

“The feeling of rejection ahead of the 1998 World Championships was back again. If the new ISSF rule had been in place, I would have won the bronze medal...”

Karmakar’s feats  

  • After the Barcelona heartbreak, it took the Kolkata-born marksman eight more years to pocket his first international gold medal at the Australian Open.
  • Another two years down the line, he bagged his first ISSF World Cup medal — a silver at Sydney in 2010. He is still India’s only silver medallist in the 50m rifle prone event in World Cup history.
  • Not just that, he shot 599, one short of the perfect score at the tournament to shatter the Asian record.