The World Cup in Rio de Janeiro served as a perfect reminder for the Indian shooting team. It was here three years ago that a heartbreaking performance from India saw the team return medalless from the Olympics. It was the first time since the 2004 Athens Olympics that no shooters had a podium finish.
When the current lot of shooters were in action last month in Rio for the World Cup, memories came rushing back to the coaching staff of that miserable outcome. But this time, the results saw a new high.
It was no Olympics but India finished at the top of the medal tally finishing with five gold, two silver and two bronze. It was India best finish at a World Cup with nine medals.
Jaspal Rana, coach of the pistol team in Rio, says it was one of the most memorable outings and the result was because of the planning the team has been putting in since the Rio Olympics disappointment.
“Good planning and proper monitoring are things what we learnt from the last Olympics,” Rana said.
“We had a great build-up before Rio but what happened? People were going everywhere, training and planning alone. Even before the competition, they were not with the team. You have to ask the kids. After the setback [in Rio] we learnt a lot. Top shooters back then are not in the team.”
India now has a new crop of world-beaters. Saurabh Chaudhary, Abhishek Verma, Manu Bhaker, Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela are ranked inside top five of their respective events. India have qualified a record 14 shooters for the World Cup finals in November and once again, the hype around shooters is at its top.
In 2019, India have won 22 medals in ISSF World Cups, 19 out of which are gold medals. Before 2019, India had a total of 16 gold medals.
According to Rana, the new crop of Indian shooters have performed as a team which has helped them win medals throughout the year. The likes of Chaudhary and Verma have been giving competition to each other which has resulted in improved performances. The foreign coaches, who hardly had athletes to train, are once again getting the full team in the camp.
“We have a fleet of shooters,” Rana said. “We are not dependent on one shooter. Saurabh failed, Verma came. Manu failed, Yashashwini came. Jitu Rai and Vijay Kumar are not even in the team but this team is still strong.”
“If you work with the team, you will get the results. Foreign coaches are also enjoying because they have shooters to train,” he said. “Earlier, the foreign coaches did not have anyone to train. Now no one is training abroad. Shooter used to go out and nobody monitored.”
Verma and Chaudhary have developed a repo of exchanging gold medals at World Cups. In the four World Cups this year, both shooters have won two gold each. In Rio, it was Verma who landed the top medal while Chaudhary finished with a bronze.
The two, roommates since Asian Games last year, are the biggest hope for Olympic medals as well.
Verma is of the opinion that the healthy competition in the team helps him improve at the sport which was just a hobby for him until last year.
“It is not pressure, it is competition,” Verma said. “To keep your place in the team is a huge thing now. Even in Rio or before that, my aim was to shoot good scores with technique. Medals are not important now.”
It is a thought that is shared by most in the Indian team. Rana says that this has led to an environment inside the camp which will keep you at the peak.
“You need to have an environment. It’s like taking exams in an examination hall. You know everything but you cannot write, your mind doesn’t work. So you train and peak at the right time.”
Four years ago, Rai was winning medals at almost every competition he participated. His performance in 2015 made him a medal favourite in Rio but he failed in the finals, finishing seventh.
Rana reminds India of similar consequences if the team makes the same mistakes. With crucial one year ahead before the Tokyo Olympics next year, he wants the shooters to live in reality. The warning, he says, is inspired from that Rio performance from 2016.
“[If we want to sustain], make sure everything is at the same pace,” he said. “We cannot fasten the preparations because we are already on top. We in no way slow down.”
“Shooters know what to do and if somebody thinks they have a quota, it’s just the beginning. So don’t live in a dream world. From now on, training and staying together will encourage them.”