Ronak Pandit: ‘Pressure would have helped shooters in Rio’

"As manager, I would not be held responsible for shooters not training directly under me, because that is the job of the respective personal coaches. As far as Heena Sidhu (10m air pistol and 25m pistol) is concerned, I am completely and directly responsible."

"She (Heena Sidhu) has competed at two Olympics, was world number one (10m air pistol) and is the current world record holder (10m air pistol). You should be asking us where we went wrong at Rio. She performed, it was not good enough for a medal."   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Ronak Pandit wore two hats at the 2016 Olympics Games. Personal coach to pistol shooter Heena Sidhu, he was also the designated manager of the Indian shooting squad at Rio. In the wake of India’s no-show, the shooters are bracing for change in the way future preparations are handled by the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI). Excerpts from a chat:

Question: Have you submitted your report to the federation as manager of the Indian shooting squad at the Rio Games?

Answer: The report has been handed over to NRAI and will remain confidential.

Your appointment as manager was an interesting decision by NRAI, since you were already a personal coach to Heena Sidhu. What was the reason behind the move?

Since 12 shooters qualified for the Olympics, only six people could be present in the Olympics Village at any given point of time. Coaches/managers can be proportionate to 50 per cent of athletes. NRAI felt coaches would be more valuable to shooters instead of a dedicated manager to take care of administrative work. I was the only Indian among the coaches, rest were foreigners. Being an international shooter for 15 years and aware of shooters’ requirements, I was assigned the role.

Would you be held responsible for the performance, as personal coach-cum-manager?

As manager, I would not be held responsible for shooters not training directly under me, because that is the job of the respective personal coaches. As far as Heena Sidhu (10m air pistol and 25m pistol) is concerned, I am completely and directly responsible. I am also responsible to ensure that performance of other shooters does not get affected due to any managerial, administrative, accommodation or food-related issues. I did the best that I could.

How was the mood within the Indian squad, in view of no medals from Rio?

No one gave excuses for their performances, or tried to find faults with anything. Everyone tried to adapt and adjust to the available facilities and conditions, despite problems which have been detailed in my report. We were professionals out there representing the nation and our job was to deliver.

India returned without a medal in shooting for the first time since Athens 2004. Looking back, any observations?

Looking back in hindsight, given the fact that each shooter out there had prepared in the best manner possible, he/she took it for granted that performances would match preparations. There was a sense of complacency, it is my personal observation. In the competition, the final push from the shooter was missing. A little pressure would have helped, a little shortage of preparedness helps you stay on your toes, keep senses more acute.

To avoid Rio repeats, there is talk of NRAI doing away with personal coaches?

I believe it is wrong when shooters go hunting for a personal coach after getting the Olympics quota, using the government funds coming due to the quota. Three-four months before the Olympics, changing a coach may not work, leaving you neither here nor there. The federation needs to come into the picture here. To say personal coaches are not good does not make sense. Abhinav Bindra got the Beijing gold under a personal coach. He is not a product of the system. Gagan Narang’s medal (London 2012) came under a personal coach, as did Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s medal (Athens 2004). You cannot take a knee-jerk reaction.

Rio 2016 was Heena’s second Olympic appearance. You were her personal coach at London 2012…

I have been training Heena since 2011. She competed at two Olympics, was world number one (10m air pistol) and is the current world record holder (10m air pistol). You should be asking us where we went wrong at Rio. She performed, it was not good enough for a medal.

There is talk about a centralised camp for shooters. Your thoughts?

Heena and me wish to train at the national camp. The standard of Indian shooting is not high enough to push her, hence the need to go abroad. In place of JN stadium, NRAI can get better results at lower cost by holding a training camp in Germany, for example, for the top shooters under hired top coaches.

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