Opinion | Pre-Olympic jitters for Indian shooting

Written By: Digvijay Singh Deo WION
New Delhi Published: Jul 06, 2021, 06:49 PM(IST)

File photo of Anjum Moudgil (L) and Apurvi Chandela. Photograph:( DNA )

Story highlights

Apurvi Chandela’s form has started to pick up and the Olympian is starting to find her feet after hitting rock bottom in March at the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi.

The pressure that comes along with the Olympic Games is starting to take a toll. The shooting coaches are feeling the heat in Zagreb which is the base for the Indian shooting team ahead of Tokyo2020.  

A few days ago, Pavel Smirnov, India’s foreign coach in Pistol, got into an argument with a security guard posted outside the military facility where the shooting range is located. Those present there admit matters got extremely heated and a few senior coaches had to step in to defuse the situation. The guard allowed the team in but reported the matter to his superiors and the Indian team was informed that Smirnov would henceforth not be allowed to enter the facility.

Once again, the situation was defused and a truce declared with officials from the Croatian Shooting Federation playing peacemaker.  

Smirnov has been prone to displaying temper tantrums and such incidents have been increasing over the last few months. However such meltdowns are surprising as he has no reason to feel the heat, his pistol shooters had an excellent showing at the ISSF World Cup in Osijek. 

Smirnov’s compatriot Oleg Mikhailov, India’s foreign coach in rifle, though is spending long hours after training ends at the 10m range. Something feels terribly wrong and Mikhailov hasn’t been able to get to the bottom of what exactly has caused a dip in form of his top medal contenders. He has been putting Elavenil Valarivan and Divyansh Singh Panwar’s rifles through microscopic scrutiny hoping to spot a flaw which led to a poor outing in Osijek.  

Elavenil Valarivan is the World No. 1 in the Women’s Air Rifle, Divyansh Panwar is the World No. 2 in the Men’s discipline. Both have been picked to shoot in the Mixed Air Rifle event in the Olympics, an event the National Rifle Association is banking on.

Panwar shot a 624.7 in qualification and finished 25th, Valarivan managed a score of 621.2 following a deduction of two points.  

Anyone can have a bad competition. But the warning bells start ringing when the scores drop so dramatically. The top two rifle shooters were consistently getting above 630 in training according to one of those in Zagreb. Deepak Kumar the other Air Rifle shooter in the Olympic team shot 626 while former World No. 1 Apurvi Chandela shot 624.2. Anjum Moudgil also competed in that event and had 622.3.  

None of these scores is good enough for a high level of competition expected at the Olympic Games. Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela won Olympic quotas for India at the 2018 World Championships but lost form during the pandemic.

NRAI dropped Anjum Moudgil from the Air Rifle team but gave her a means of overcoming the disappointment by picking her for the mixed event while Apurvi Chandela just had the Air Rifle event to prepare for. 

NRAI President Raninder Singh knows what an Olympic disappointment feels like. In 2016, he had to explain to the media (this writer included) why his team returned empty-handed from the Olympics.

As President of the National Rifle Association of India, he has been heavily involved in the planning of the Olympic campaign and instrumental alongside former Double Trap star Ronjan Sodhi in airlifting his team to Zagreb with training in India affected by the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic.  

Raninder Singh one learns did not waste time. He summoned the rifle coaches to a virtual meeting and told them this performance was unacceptable. Those in the know say he read the riot act, told coaches to stop mollycoddling their wards and to work together as a team and get the shooters back to their best. He had drafted a stern letter to the pistol coaches in June, asking them to put aside their differences and stop squabbling.  

He also took another important step. He asked the coaches to pair Apurvi Chandela and Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar to compete against the selected pairs of Elavenil Valarivan/ Divyansh Panwar and Deepak Kumar/Anjum Moudgil. Aishwary Tomar, who will shoot the Men’s Rifle 3 position event in Tokyo, caused a flutter by reaching the Men’s Air Rifle final in Croatia.  

Apurvi Chandela’s form has started to pick up and the Olympian is starting to find her feet after hitting rock bottom in March at the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi.

She continuously maintained that her dipping scores were a result of some changes in her kit and was backed to the hilt by the coaches. She has started to repay that faith and has started to shoot high scores in training. Apurvi Chandela and Aishwary Tomar have already started training together and the reports from Zagreb suggest the pairing has potential.  

So, who makes way then? Informed sources point at Anjum Moudgil. Her confidence they say has been shattered after Elavenil Valarivan was picked in her place. Some say the decision to replace her has been made and will be announced in due course, perhaps after the team lands in Tokyo to avoid any controversy.  

Anjum Moudgil’s lack of confidence is also attributed to poor decision-making on the part of the coaching staff. Too many changes have been made in a bid to help her regain her form. Senior shooters maintain there is a time and place for changing equipment or making technical adjustments. You do not make those changes a month ahead of the Olympics.  

You also do not fix what is not broken. Divyansh Panwar’s dip in form is being attributed to an error of judgement from the coaches. A decision was made to change the trigger of his weapon a day or so ahead of the Osijek World Cup. It backfired. From shooting in the 630s, he lost the ‘feeling’ and ended up shooting below 625. He was made to do holding exercises with his gun the night before his competition. Team sources say the old trigger has been restored and the scores are on their way up again.  But what of his confidence and self-belief?  

Deepak Kumar is fighting hard to retain his spot in the Mixed Rifle team and his coach is making him go for runs in the morning in a bid to increase his stamina and endurance. Deepak Kumar had tested positive for Covid earlier this year and there are concerns that he could still be feeling the after-effects. He isn’t one to give up easily. He has been a part of the team for many years now and won a silver in the Men’s Air Rifle at the 2018 Asian Games.  

There is a growing concern within the team about the lack of conditioning for the Olympics. Apurvi Chandela and Sanjeev Rajput are the only two shooters in the Rifle team with prior Olympic experience. Apurvi Chandela is drawing on her knowhow from Rio and is attempting to train for various scenarios. She struggled for sleep the night before her competition in Rio, disturbed by those coming back from the opening ceremony. Women’s Air Rifle is again scheduled for the first day of the Games. On a couple of occasions already, she has dragged herself to training, after staying awake entire nights.  

Pistol shooter Manu Bhaker and her current coach Ronak Pandit have already started to set their alarm clocks to 5.00 a.m. and hope to further attune their body clock to the Tokyo time zone over the next 10 days.   

Yet, not everyone is on the same page, busy as they are trying to get a grip on what is going wrong. There has been a suggestion to have a few days of quarantine training before departure on July 16 where the shooters will be confined to their rooms through the day barring a few hours of controlled match situations. There is a possibility that such a situation could arise in Tokyo but no formal decision has been made yet to go down this route.

(Digvijay Singh Deo is Sports Editor, WION and has covered the sport of Shooting from 2003)  

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)

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