New Delhi: Perfectionist Abhinav Bindra walked into the sunset after a glorious career but, in an unfortunate coincidence, dark clouds hovered over a house in disorder after the Indian shooting team returned with only luggage to boast for following a barren Olympic campaign.
Bindra was not far away from a fairytale ending.
India's lone individual Olympic gold medallist till date, he quit the sport he loved dearly and practised with single-minded devotion over the last two decades, after winning plenty of laurels across the world.
Bindra officially announced his retirement from shooting in September, saying, "It is time to move on and hand over the baton to the younger generation".
With the profile of the sport taking a beating of sorts post Rio, youngsters would do well take a leaf out of Bindra's book of training.
The World Championship gold-medallist missed out on a second Olympic podium finish by a whisker in his last Games after losing in a tense shoot-off, but still he was by far the best Indian shooter on view in Rio.
It was appropriate that the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), governing body for the sport in the country, commemorated the glittering career of Bindra at a gala ceremony.
While the sport made noises outside, by the standards Indian shooters have set over the years, it was quiet inside the ranges. Performing regularly gave way to winning a rare medal or two intermittently.
The debacle in Rio was the first time since 2004 that India finished without a medal at an Olympic Games, prompting the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) to formulate a review committee headed by Bindra immediately after the multi-sport extravaganza to examine and identify in a cold and ruthless manner the reasons behind the failure.
Besides the shooters, the panel was equally scathing on coaches and the national federation in its damning 36-page report, and minced no words as it chastised the Rio flop show while recommending a systematic overhaul.
From Gagan Narang, Heena Sidhu to Ayonika Paul, none of the shooters were spared for the disastrous outing, with the panel talking to each shooter individually.
Among the juniors though, talented shooters have emerged with quite a few shining on the world stage regularly, indicating a bright future.
The rise of junior shooters augers well for the sport, but the seniors have left a lot to be desired with their dismal showing, especially in the mother of all sporting events, where India has brought home four medals since the Athens Games, including a historic gold by Bindra at the 2008 Beijing edition.
Vijay Kumar and Gagan Narang continued the trend at London 2012, winning a silver and a bronze each, and the shooters kept the good work going by returning with a decent haul from the Incheon Asian Games and Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Jitu Rai, who emerged as the brightest medal prospect in that period by regularly winning on the world stage, would prove to be the biggest disappointment as he failed to finish on the podium in both his pistol events at Rio.
The likes of Heena, Manavjeet Singh Sandhu, Narang, Apurvi Chandela and Jitu, among others, left the country thoroughly disappointed after they were unable to put on an impressive show.
The committee concluded that the consistent trickle of shooting medals since the 2004 Athens Games ended up making everyone involved in the sport complacent.
"Everyone took it for granted that there would be progress automatically, and forgot to ensure a systematic healthy process," the report had stated.
"The committee was unanimous in its view that Indian shooting needs to change, change its attitude, its policies and practices, so that the booming talent gets a fair chance to flourish in a healthy atmosphere, and win all the medals that it can in the World Championships and the Olympics."
It is an irony that the shooters let India down despite being provided all help while preparing for the mega sporting event.
Jitu revived his season by winning the Champion of Champions pistol award in the World Cup Final towards the end.
Meanwhile, India's rich haul of 15 medals in the Asian Shooting Championship for rifle and pistol in Tehran saw a lot of positives. It saw some new stars emerge with Shahzar Rizvi and Ruchita Vinerkar being the most notable faces.
There were a few others such as Shubhankar Pramanik, Anmol Jain, Swapnil Kusale, Manavaditya Rathore, son of the India's first Olympic medallist in shooting, and Anant Jeet Singh Naruka who did very well, continuing the work in progress.
In the junior category, there was lot to cheer about as India finished second overall with a total of nine gold, five silver and 10 bronze medals at the year's second and final Junior World Cup in September in Azerbaijan.
They finished second in the tournament, an improvement of two places after being placed fourth in the year's first World Cup.
Meanwhile, the ISSF (International Shooting Sport federation) has rung in some changes to international events that will rob a number of existing male shooters of their favoured events.
Bindra is heading the panel that has recommended the changes. Prepared to face brickbats, Bindra tried to reason with those who criticised the idea.
The ISSF announced that the double trap event will be replaced by trap mixed gender team event, while 10m air rifle mixed gender team event will replace the 50m rifle prone event.
The 50m pistol men event will be taken over by 10m air pistol mixed gender team event. All this is being done in an effort to correct the gender imbalance in medal events at the Olympics.
Updated Date: Dec 20, 2016 15:37:13 IST