The Tokyo Olympics witnessed a record-breaking campaign for India but it also showed there is a lot of work to be done for Indian sport to become a consistent powerhouse.

One of the biggest areas of concern from the Olympics was the performance of the shooting squad. The highly-rated squad of 15 participated in 10 events but only Saurabh Chaudhary managed to reach a final (men’s 10m air pistol.)

However, it is not only the performance in Tokyo but the season leading up to it and that showed the first red flags.

Tokyo 2020: Data check – where Indian shooters finished and how far they were from finals

The first sign of trouble was the Delhi World Cup and it only carried on at the second World Cup in Osijek, Croatia where the team was airlifted by the National Rifle Association of India in May for training as the coronavirus situation in India made it extremely difficult to hold a camp. The NRAI had ensured that the Olympic core group had the necessary facilities and infrastructure and in Tokyo, chief Raninder Singh was at a loss to explain where exactly things went wrong. Now, a three-part review is planned.

Even accounting for the pandemic shutdown in 2020, having little competition and the process of peaking taking time, the performance of Indian shooters showed that there are bigger issues to be addressed. Tokyo was the second straight Olympics where the shooting squad fell short, after just two finals at Rio 2016 and no medals.

Ronak Pandit, one of India’s coaches at Tokyo who has also been the national high performance manager and NRAI observer, said that the first thing that India needs to look into is decisions at administrative level — from appointing coaches to planning the shooter’s schedule.

In an interview with, the former pistol shooter who joined the coaching staff earlier this year, weighed in on what exactly went wrong and how Indian shooting can fix the issues.

Here are excerpts from the interaction:

As the coach, how would you assess the performance of the pistol squad in Tokyo?

The pistol section did reasonably well I would say. Five shooters out of whom Saurabh made it to the final in top position which is a first time ever, Abhishek [Verma] and Manu [Bhaker], till the last shot almost made the cut. This is the Olympics and everyone is fully prepared, there is absolutely no room for error. I don’t think they crumbled, they didn’t do as well as they could have but this is sport and not every day can be the best. Maybe only Rahi [Sarnobat] was a miss.

Where do you think the team fell short ahead of Tokyo?

When we analyse in retrospect, everything seems a perfect science but in reality it is not. Given the situation in the country in April and May 2021, we did not have an option but to leave the country. Every option has its pros and cons and here the pros were safety from Covid-19, uninterrupted training, etc. whereas the cons were possibility of burn out due to long camp, homesickness, etc. We did everything within our intellect to protect our shooters from burnout and keep them sharp but staying away for this long has its effects.

What would you identify as the one aspect that absolutely needs to change to help Indian shooting in the way forward?

I have no qualms admitting and I have said this several times before that our foreign coaches aren’t as good as the Indian coaches. But that’s my opinion. The shooter–coach rapport is always better with Indian coach and so is the communication.

You may have one or two foreign experts in fields like sport science which is under-developed in India but you cannot have them lead the way. We are a peculiar lot and they can never understand us or our ways. Anyways these bunch from eastern Europe and Russia are an obsolete lot and we should steer away from them. A lot of the good work of us Indian coaches wasn’t done as well because the foreign coaches had the final say and I don’t think they were professional enough. The way they conduct simulation competitions is far from how it should be and I am certain it had an effect on our performances.

What according to you should be the main focus for the Indian shooting stakeholders going forward?

I think the biggest need of the hour going ahead is for all stake holders to come to consensus with regards our goal. If the goal truly is Olympic Games then we all need to plan for the Olympic Games. The calendar or the road map should have Olympic Games as the ultimate goal and we need to work backwards from it (reverse analysis/planning) to decide when to conduct training camps, when to give rest, when to compete, etc. Every decision should be taken with only the Olympic Games in mind. We need to invest more time to prepare and sort out our glitches – technical, physical, psychological and emotional and think of competing only as a means to test our preparedness. We don’t need to shoot every competition in every corner of the world. Look at how many world cups are played by some of these consistent Olympic performers. Delve in history and look at how many competitions in total (domestic + international) were shot by Abhinav Bindra in a year and how many days did he devote to training and you will have the answers. Olympic preparation is more common sense and less rocket science but only if we are all on the same page.

How would you suggest to come up with such a plan?

Coaches have to make a plan for every individual top shooter. Shooting is an individual sport and everybody is at a different level of competence, performance; everybody has different strengths and weaknesses. So it has to be more customised and less group activity.

We need to come up with our plan and decide what is our objective. If it’s Paris 2024 so you draw plans backwards from 2024 and decide what are the next major “mock tests” you are going to undertake before your final exam in July 2024. And before mock tests, you are going to want to prepare yourself and the least we would want is to solve our current problems that we face today. Someone has technical shortcomings, someone has a physical injury. They need to be solved and then built upon and after we are satisfied with our preparations, then we need to look for competitions to go and test ourselves. We want to prepare and perform, not try our luck at every other competition.

How can we help build empower Indian coaches to get to the next level and be seen as the foremost support staff?

We definitely don’t need foreign coaches, Indian coaches are technically superior to most but most coaches definitely need more knowledge of sports science and how to integrate it with technical training. Finally the key is to integrate your physical training and psychological training and sport science with the technical training because eventually they all need to come together to ensure your technical execution is flawless under pressure.

We should get high performance experts to train Indian coaches, empowering Indian coaches will not only be economical but have a bigger impact on overall progress of sport in India since Indian coaches will eventually be training far more players during their lifetime than a foreign expert who is going to be here only temporarily.