New Delhi: India's pistol coach Pavel Smirnov, who once compared Jitu Rai to a diamond, struggles to comprehend how one of his most talented shooters slipped into oblivion.
Rai, who went into the 2016 Olympics as one of India's biggest medal hopefuls, suffered an inexplicable meltdown in Rio de Janeiro, to return empty-handed.
Quickly putting the disappointment behind, Rai found his bearing again and became the first Indian to win two medals in an ISSF World Cup the following year.
The Army man struck gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast and then came a lull that continues.
Pained at not seeing a talent as good as Rai in the thick of things, Smirnov thinks another shot at glory awaits the unassuming shooter.
"It is painful to not see Jitu in action in international shooting. What happened I don't know," Sminov said on the sidelines of the ongoing season-opening ISSF World Cup in the capital.
"I was taking rest in Moscow for three months, so I was not with him, but it was surprising to see him not hitting the targets in the National Championships and the two selection trials," the Russian added.
Smirnov, who coached Vijay Kumar to a silver medal in 25m rapid fire pistol event at the 2012 London Olympics, is surprised at Rai's decline as he considers the Army man as one with the clearest of minds.
"He is very clear minded, maybe there could be some mistakes he is making while training, mistakes in preparation that are not helping him. We have contact, but only live practice works, giving tips on skype, internet and over phone don't help," Smirnov said.
He is, at the same time, hopeful of a strong comeback by Rai ahead of the Tokyo Games.
With young shooters consistently making their mark in the global arena, Smirnov is upbeat about the future of pistol shooting in the country.
He was appointed coach of the Indian pistol shooting team in 2013 and before that worked with the Army, during which he trained Vijay Kumar.
"We have strong preparation. The likes of Manu Bhaker and Anish (Bhanwala) are very young and will gain in more experience by participating in as many tournaments," he said.
"There is Anish in rapid fire, Heena Sidhu is there, then there is Rahi (Sarnobat) in sport pistol. We are aiming for the Olympic Games. In Japan, I think we will do better. They all also have a chance in Delhi," he added.
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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2019 16:20:00 IST