CHENNAI: Indian shooters were subjected to a barrage of criticism after a subdued show at the Tokyo Olympics. Coaches and officials weren't spared either. For high-performance coach (rifle) Deepali Deshpande, it was, to say the least, a disturbing experience. "I was taken aback, the kind of attention we were getting. When we do well at the World Championships or any other event, we never get that get kind of response. This was a big learning curve for me. In the Olympics that I participated in as a player, I was responsible for myself. I didn't really feel this then, but as a coach, I really felt it strongly," Deepali, who was part of the 2004 Olympics as a shooter, recalled.
It's indeed a big test of mental strength for Deepali and the shooters. The scars of Tokyo might linger on for some time but the only way forward is to get results in future competitions. Currently training in Delhi for next month's ISSF President's Cup (formerly known as ISSF World Cup Final), Deepali insisted that the shooters and coaches have set aside negative energy and are focussed on the future.
"It's high time we started. The new Olympic cycle, which is a year shorter, begins. We are out of the Olympic blues. Now, it's a fresh start. We're doing good and hopeful of a strong show."
Anjum Moudgil (rifle) and pistol shooters Rahi Sarnobat, Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary, Abhishek Verma and Yashaswini Singh Deswal will be part of the aforementioned event, which is being held in Wroclaw (Poland) from November 3 to 10. The shooters, based on their world rankings, were invited by the ISSF — world body — for the event. Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar was also supposed to take part but has withdrawn.
Manu was one of the first shooters to return to action after the Tokyo disappointment, winning multiple medals during the Junior Worlds. Now, it's a chance for the likes of Anjum and Rahi to make a notable impression, something that could act as a springboard ahead of future challenges. Anjum, taking part in 50m rifle 3 positions, had fallen just short during the qualification stage in Tokyo.
"Whatever we feel... we left unfinished at the Olympics, we want to finish it now. She (Anjum) was almost there (during Olympics)... after the match, we both had that feeling. It's good that this has come up. It's a new season, we are not making major changes but working on a few things we want to try. We are basically getting ready for the new season," Deepali said.
"Immediately after that, the nationals, selection trials will begin. So it's good that these shooters are getting a chance here," she added.
The ISSF will be experimenting with new formats during the President's Cup. The 50m rifle 3 positions will witness two phases during the qualification stage. The top-eight will enter the finals. Similarly, the 10m air pistol events (both individual and mixed team) will also have new experimental formats.
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), meanwhile, is still working on the Tokyo post-mortem report. They had recently gotten in touch with all the Tokyo participants including Deepali, seeking answers ahead of the new Olympic cycle. "The federation wanted to know how we can make things better and wanted my observations on what actually went wrong. I have always been vocal about having proper training. We shoot very long matches and for some time, we haven't had a proper coaching camp for the national squad, where we can actually build the team. Just before international competitions, it's not practical to make big changes and it's mainly about polishing their skills. It cannot be called proper coaching where you sit with the players, work on their techniques. We need to make a proper plan for the next few years and stick with it throughout," she said.