Exclusive: 'Young team needs to be guided in right direction' - Suma Shirur opens up on preparations during lockdown, Tokyo Olympics, and more

Written By: Digvijay Singh Deo WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Apr 23, 2020, 08:28 PM(IST)

Exclusive | Suma Shirur in conversation with WION Photograph:( PTI )

Story highlights

Former Olympian shooter and current high-performance coach with the Indian junior rifle team, Suma Shirur, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up on the challenges of training under lockdown, how players will regain rhythm post-COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of announcing shooting team for Olympics 15 months before the Games, the proposal of quarantine camps, and much more...

Sporting events have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with players and coaching staff being restricted to train and work indoors. Major events like the Olympics, Wimbledon, ISSF World Cup, among many others have been either postponed or cancelled amid the pandemic. There is a sense of uncertainty as to when live action will resume as almost the entire world continues to remain under lockdown.

Former Olympian shooter and current high-performance coach with the Indian junior rifle team, Suma Shirur, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up on the challenges of training under lockdown, how players will regain rhythm post-COVID-19 pandemic, the idea of announcing shooting team for Olympics 15 months before the Games, the proposal of quarantine camps, and much more...

Digvijay Singh Deo: Suma, thanks for joining me...this lockdown has turned your life upside down, one part of the family in goa but you did manage to get your son out of Germany on the last possible flight...

Suma Shirur: Yes, it has been quite a challenge for us to get the family together, but eventually we did manage to find our way. My son did return from Germany and was initially quarantined for 14 days, but with the lockdown, he has been indoors for much longer now. But the most important thing is that he is healthy. My in-laws are in Goa and they too are safe and secure. The silver lining of the lockdown is that I am able to spend quality time with my family, something I haven't done for the last two years.

DSD: For you personally, is this a welcome pause after a rather hectic run since the Rio Olympics?

Suma Shirur: Yes that's true. I have been very busy since I took charge as a high-performance coach of the Indian team two years back, I have not been able to spend more than a week at home during that period. So this lockdown, especially the initial couple of weeks, was a blessing in disguise for me. I was able to earn some much-needed rest and be able to relax at home with my family. Recently, I have started working properly again, we are doing online interaction and exercises with our shooters. There is an acceptance from everyone about the gravity of the prevailing situation and we are trying to find ways to work around it. We cannot wait for the lockdown to end, so we have to plan ahead.

Exclusive | Suma Shirur in conversation with WION

DSD: You know what it takes to compete at the Olympics, in fact, the sacrifice of the Olympian is best typified by you as you left your son who must have been two or three when you trained abroad for the Athens Olympics...How disappointing is it for the sportsperson to see the Olympics pushed back?

Suma Shirur: Yes I feel it's very disappointing, but then again the International Olympic Committee had no choice. It's especially a setback to our team because I feel the entire Indian team was very well prepared for the games. After the debacle at the Rio games, concrete measures were put in place and we were reaping the benefits of those policies. Most of our shooters are ranked in the top 3 in the world, so we had a team that was ready to compete for gold at Tokyo 2020. So in that sense, the postponement hurt because it wasn't pushed back by 1 or 2 months, but by an entire year. But we have now accepted the decision and we will now strive to be the best team in the world one year later.

DSD: I was speaking to Abhinav Bindra a few weeks ago and he suggested that India's coaches need to mentor our younger lot through these tough times...

Suma Shirur: Yes, we do have a young team and they have to be guided in the right direction. But that is why we are constantly in touch with them for their support. Even today we had an online call with all the shooters, coaching staff and physios. There is a plan in place for each one of them. So, overall I think this is a tough situation for the young guns to handle, but we are mentoring them every step of the way. With the plan we have in place, our shooters should stay on track for a strong performance at next year's Olympics.

DSD: As a coach how have you been interacting with your wards...how do you ensure they stay sharp?

Suma Shirur: That is one of the biggest challenges the federation faces, to ensure that the shooters maintain their form. So we have come up with a few contingency plans, depending on how soon w will overcome this COVID-19 crisis. The first scenario is a bit optimistic where our players will get back to training in shooting ranges in July and August, given things improve and we are allowed to do so. But otherwise, it is likely that things do not open up and we might be at home for an extended period of time, with no international or domestic competitions in the calendar.

The most important thing is for our athletes to be ready for each scenario. This crisis could go one for the whole year and we might not see any more competitions this season. We are trying to ensure that every shooter has a single lane shooting range in his or her house. Many of them already have mini-ranges, and we are working towards building them for those who do not have access to a range. Even the president of the federation has strongly given his backing to the idea, saying there must be an electronic target system at the shooter's homes so that their training doesn't take a hit. So that would the first step in implementing our long term plan.

Exclusive | Suma Shirur in conversation with WION

DSD: Not everyone can shoot at home like and dry practice isn't the same is it...we have also seen the birth of online competitions, is that the way forward you feel?

Suma Shirur: Online competitions area great way for shooters to remain competitive, but we can only have those is every shooter has a system in their house, which is not the case. Wall-holding exercises can be done, but that also gets repetitive after a certain period of time. That is why we have made it a priority to ensure that all our shooters, especially the Olympic core group, have an electronic target system at home. That is what we are working on right now and it's going to be a major challenge.

DSD: How long do you think it will take our shooters to reach their peak again? Because it will be difficult for them to sustain it during this period.

Suma Shirur: Once we get back, I think there will be a big difference between the senior shooters and junior shooters. Some of our shooters have been in the international circuit for than ten years, so they have very strong muscle memory. I think it will take them about a month to get back in the groove. I think the major challenge will be for the junior shooters since they haven't been in the game for a long time. Their bodies are also changing as they grow, so they will need to adapt accordingly. But I think they have enough talent and ability to overcome this challenge. They will need a lot of guidance during this time, but I think after a couple of months in training, they should be back on track. Both the junior and senior shooters though, have to keep themselves physically fit during the lockdown. Even if they are not shooting regularly, they should follow a fitness regime because that will make it easier for them to return to form when they are back shooting competitively.

DSD: How difficult will it be for shooters to extend their peak for close to three years, the likes of Apurvi and Anjum have already won quotas in 2018...

Suma Shirur: When we speak about Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela, it has been a challenge for them to maintain their form after winning a quote place in 2018, but they have proven themselves already with their performances in the last two years. They have done exceptionally well in the competitions and I don't think it will be tough for them to maintain that same level of performance for one more year. As long as they have the hunger and desire to win competitions, they will undoubtedly be able to carry their excellent form into the Olympics next year.

In fact, I believe that this lockdown could be a welcome break for most of our shooters. They have been extremely busy in the last two years, competing at the highest level. They cal use this break to recharge their batteries and re-calibrate things. This might actually help them in taking their performances to the next level, rather than halting their momentum.

DSD: That brings me to a crucial point...NRAI has been talking about declaring the team for Tokyo 2021. My concern is, should a team for a competition 15 months away be declared now?

Suma Shirur: Initially I was also of the opinion to wait till next year to announce the team for the games. A trial close to next year's games made sense before announcing the team. But looking at the crisis that we have at our hands, I don't think the situation is going to improve in the short term. So we don't know what situation the athletes are going to be in next year. I believe that it would be unfair on the shooters to hold the Olympic trials next year if no international or domestic competitions take place in the calendar. The team for the 2020 games would have been announced in march if it had not been for the coronavirus pandemic. So I think going forward, it would appropriate to announce team and protect their place for the Olympics. That way we can focus on training those shooters and use our resources for their preparation. We could also organise a camp where only the Olympic shooters can train while following the guidelines of the government.

Exclusive | Suma Shirur in conversation with WION

DSD: Should there be a quarantine camp as Pullela Gopichand suggested to me and like what the IOA has proposed yesterday?

Suma Shirur: Yes I would very much support to that proposal. I think the various sporting bodies have started discussing the possibility of holding such camps in a couple of months time when the government will start easing certain restrictions. Of course, that would require guaranteeing the health and safety of all the players and coaches, which means all the relevant medical tests would take place before the champs start. But these camps cannot be for a large number of people, they must be held only for the Olympic core group so that isolation in some form can be practised. The NRAI is definitely looking at the possibility of organising such a camp.

DSD: My worry is that by announcing a team now we may not send the best, inf-form shooters to the Olympics, we have seen the folly of sending a pre-decided team earlier to the Olympics in the past where shooters were not in-form...

Suma Shirur: I feel we cannot just assume that the international competitions will take place this season. We can't keep waiting for the situation to improve or the crisis to boil over. There has to be at least one plan in place for Olympic preparation. Even if we have trials for the hopefuls next year close to the Games, is it going to be fair on those who haven't trained in the past few months? When they have already proven themselves to be top shooters in the past few years. With so much uncertainty across the world, it does not make sense to keep everyone waiting. In my opinion, it makes more sense to announce the team and protect the players, so that we ensure that they maintain their form ahead of the Olympics.

DSD: Ahead of any Olympics, anyone who follows a particular sport has a certain idea about the group of players who are in the mix to win a medal, but because of the lack of preparation going into the 2021 Olympics, do you think we will see a completely different set of medalists?

Suma Shirur: Yes that certainly is possible. But like I said before we will ensure that our top shooters are fully prepared for the 2021 games, and hopefully, those who we considered as medal contenders for the 2020 games will still get us medals in the 2021 games. As far as the junior shooters are concerned, this might be a blessing in disguise for them because it gives them the opportunity to work on certain aspects of their game and improve their chances of a podium finish. The challenge is to ensure that all the shooters are motivated and in the right frame of mind during the crisis. Innovation is the key to finding solutions to deal with this unprecedented situation. It's not only us Indians who are suffering, but the entire world is going through this pandemic. We hope to stay one step ahead with all the plans that we have in place.

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