Lazlo Szucsak is a familiar name to many in Indian shooting circles. His contribution to Indian rifle shooting’s success story by training the likes of Anjali Bhagwat, Abhinav Bindra, Tejaswini Sawant, Gagan Narang, to name a few, when Indian shooters were still looking to find their footing on the international stage is well documented.
The Hungarian was back in the country where he has had two successful stints, first from 1998 to 2000 and then 2004 to 2009, as part of his national team squad for the ISSF Shooting World Cup in New Delhi.
However, not many would recognise the jovial, chubby man sitting in the stands watching his three shooters from the Hungarian squad kneel, lie down and stand with their rifles during the women’s rifle 3 positions qualification. From his vantage point, he observed and was more than happy to strike up a conversation and share his thoughts on Indian shooting.
“I keep checking the home page of the federation,” says Szucsak, who is also delighted with how things are going in India and calls it one of the best systems in the world.
“The change [from his time in the last decade] is very huge because the pool is widening with a big stream of talent, the contest is high and it is producing tough competitors. The Indian shooting situation is very good now, probably the best in the world at the moment,” he told Scroll.in.
Even as he was watching his wards, his seasoned eyes were following everyone’s progress. And one of the most glaring things he noticed was the lack of depth in women’s rifle 3 Position in India.
“The problem is that the selection goes by air rifle and best air rifle shooters don’t have the ambition to shoot 50m, which is bad. The Indian team has good air rifle shooters but the same talent is lacking in the small bore event, and especially on women’s side, it is a little bit weak. You have Anjum [Moudgil], who is good but the others are not so powerful,” he said.
“The best air rifle shooters have to start small bore shooting. India is thinking we have enough money to bring separate shooters. But that is wrong because the best shooters are selected for air rifle and second line for small bore, who are not as powerful. This is one thing I think India has to change a little,” he added.
The 68-year-old, one of the best foreign coaches India has ever had, was on target with this observation. Moudgil is currently the only top-flight Indian female 10m rifle shooter who takes part in 3P as well.
In Delhi, this was among the lowest-performing event for the hosts at the World Cup. India’s best result was N Gaayathri, who was 36th with a total score of 1163. Sunidhi Chauhan was 49th with a score of 1156 while Sawant didn’t even make it to qualification on the second day with an elimination score of 1146. In the MQS, Moudgil scored 1164 while Kajal Saini scored 1165.
Szucsak continued: “In India, most of the top shooters have enough time to do training for both small bore and air rifle. The juniors should do both air rifle and small bore.
“Look at him, he is a Youth Olympic champion in air rifle pair event but also does small bore. The talent is not separated for air rifle, talent is for shooting and can be used for both,” he said, pointing to Hungary’s Zalan Pekler.
Reminiscing the past
Szucsak clearly still keeps a track of Indian shooting, but do the shooters ever come to him at competitions such at this?
“Sometimes… they come to me and ask certain things. But daily work is important, there is no magic touch, continuous hard work is important.”
He remembers the work ethic Indian shooters had back in the early 2000s, when the sport was nowhere close to the level it is today.
“I’ll tell you how I first met Tejaswini. We were at Asansol for the national selection trials I think... It was a very weak range, low light and every five minute there was an electric failure. It took a long time to finish the air rifle match. But in that I saw Tejwasini shoot, she didn’t have an exceptionally good result but I had a feeling she is someone I need in the camp and I requested NRAI to call her up as soon as possible.
“That time it was easier than it is now and a few years later, she became the Commonwealth champion. I am a little bit sorry that she has forgotten to shoot the air rifle or she would become the world champion in that also,” he recounted.
The Hungarian is also perhaps among the best-placed neutral voices to trace just how much the sport has evolved in India. The two most significant changes he sees is the emergence of juniors and the return of former players as coaches, which is also why Indian shooting is on the rise.
“It was much narrower field then. I remember at my first junior match in 1998, it was few shooters. Now in juniors there are thousands of shooters coming up.
“At that time we had done many central training camps, it was good preparation. Presently, as I know, there are not many central camps anymore but in many places there are good coaches now because former successful shooters became excellent coaches. Like Manoj Kumar who is coaching in the Air Force and Suma Shirur, Anjali Bhagwat, running shooting academies. This is great and very important. In some countries, the shooters don’t generally come back to the sport,” he added.
After a contentious parting of ways with India the second time, Szucsak moved to Iran to take up the challenge of training a team that can’t import ammunition to train.
But he aced that as Elaheh Ahmadi and Najmeh Khedmati repaid him with international success.
“Iran also had good talent but suffering under embargo and not having ammunition so there very few chances to shoot with the bullets and it can be difficult but the shooters are really good. Ahmadi is a great fighter,” he said of the shooter who equalled the 10m air rifle world record on the first day of competition in DElhi.
Back to 3P, an event even the best have struggled shooting over long hours in the windy weather conditions.
“The range is fine in the morning but by the time they start standing, the wind has come and it makes it difficult. It is not an easy event but I like it.. There are a 10000 good air rifle shooters in the world, but good small bore shooters are only 100,” he concluded with a smile.