Rahi Sarnobat had a sensational run, an inexplicable stumble and showed stunning ability to freeze her nerves under pressure to win the women’s 25m pistol gold at the Asian Games in Palembang on Wednesday.
The 27-year-old's performance bore remarkable similarity to Indian shooting’s journey in the past few years – apparently cruising, facing pressure of its own making and then finding beautiful balance.
There was a palpable dip in performance in Rio de Janeiro where there was little for India’s 12-member shooting team to cheer, except Abhinav Bindra’s gallant effort in 10m air rifle and Jitu Rai’s eighth-place finish in the 10m air pistol. With Bindra calling it a day soon after returning from Rio, it looked like India would struggle to find a competitive bunch.
With young guns like Malaika Goel and Ayonika Paul receding to the background, it seemed that India would face a tough time in building on the legacy created by the success of shooters like Bindra, Rajyavardhan Rathore, Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar in successive Olympic Games from 2004 to 2012.
Such successes provided positive spins-off, one of which is the interest sparked among thousands of young Indians to take to the sport. As India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist Bindra repeatedly points out, the number of entries in the National Championships is an indication of the rising popularity of the sport.
For instance, a former State-level athlete from Odisha Nita Samantaray, now based in Gujarat, is among those inspired to take to shooting and eager to represent India in the big events. She is but one example of the sport drawing a number of people, not just as a recreational pastime but also at a competitive level.
Of course, visionary parents have played no mean role in supporting their talented children. Some like Jagpal Bhanwala have uprooted their families from their comfort zones and headed to areas with better facilities for their children. Others like sugarcane farmer Jagmohan Singh, Saurabh Chaudhary’s father, have left the coaches to plot the future of their children.
In a far-sighted move, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) had established a junior programme with erstwhile shooters Mansher Singh and Jaspal Rana as National Coaches for Juniors. And, it added Suma Shirur, as High Performance Coach for the junior team. That has paid dividends with a number of shooters stepping up to challenge established names.
Manu Bhaker, Anish Bhanwala, Lakshya Sheoran and Saurabh are names that spring to mind. And in Kolkata, Joydeep Karmakar trained teenager Mehuli Ghosh to become a name to reckon with – she won the silver medal in the Commonwealth Games after looking set to claim gold with her consistency.
The challenge for NRAI is to keep these shooters motivated and to ensure that their feet stay on ground, heads on shoulders. For that to happen, there must be sound leadership with clear division of responsibilities among the various coaches. It must rate as a minor miracle that the Asian Games squad had delivered a clutch of medals, including two gold so far.
For any nation to succeed even at the continental level in such a competitive sport, a lot of elements needs to come together and contribute to the assembly line. A lot of pieces of the jigsaw have fallen in place, mostly by design and some by those sensing a massive opportunity to encourage and capitalise on the spurt in interest in shooting as a sport.
The Madhya Pradesh government has established a fantastic facility in Bhopal, not waiting for the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to sanction a National Games to invest in a classy shooting range. Under former India trap shooter Mansher’s care, the Madhya Pradesh Shooting Academy has emerged as a world-class facility.
A number of shooters chose to fine-tune their preparations for the Asian Games in this facility, delighted with the quality of the ranges. Even if a handful of other states invest in upgrading the ranges created for events like the National Games, SAF Games or the Afro-Asian Games, Indian shooting will breed competition for places in the National team.
There are other good things happening on ground, too. The Gagan Narang Foundation’s grassroots programme 'Gun For Glory' has made the sport available to more aspirants across the country. One of its discoveries Elavenil Valarivan, 19, represented India in the Asian Games, finishing 14th with a total of 620.8 points in the qualification.
'Gun For Glory' helps erase the popular misconception that shooting is not an easily affordable sport and is elitist. The perception has its roots in India’s rich tradition of shotgun shooting, dating back to royalty like Dr Karni Singh and Raja Randhir Singh. The entry of shooters from more humble backgrounds confirms that many families are ready to back their children in such sport.
Above all, amount of money invested by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in shooting and elite shooters can be staggering for those who believe that precious little is done. The annual report of the Ministry indicates that it spent in excess of Rs 7.5 crore on NRAI – including on camps, coach salaries, board and lodging and ammunition. It is the highest spent on a single sport.
One of Indian shooting’s qualities that it reflects the society it emerges from. There are many powers that pull in different directions and the sport’s leadership tries very hard to keep everyone happy, unable to make, let alone stand by, decisions that can come across as unpopular. The effort to please every athlete, parent and coach causes NRAI some grief but it has learnt to live with it.
Imagine, what a wonderful landscape it would be if everyone got on the same page and works to realise a common purpose.
Updated Date: Aug 22, 2018 23:07 PM