Rahi: Will understand if the Olympics are not held

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Digvijay Singh DeoUpdated: Jun 08, 2020, 04:49 PM IST


Story highlights

Reigning Asian Games gold-medallist Rahi Sarnobat, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digivijay Singh Deo, spoke about life in lockdown, postponement and future of Tokyo Olympics, importance of domestic competitions post-lockdown, coordination between Indian shooters and much more.

Reigning Asian Games gold-medallist Rahi Sarnobat, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digivijay Singh Deo, spoke about life in lockdown, postponement and future of Tokyo Olympics, importance of domestic competitions post-lockdown, coordination between Indian shooters and much more.

Digvijay Singh Deo: Rahi, you in particular train extremely religiously so how difficult has it been for you?

Rahi Sarnobat: Yes it has been extremely difficult. I have not been to the shooting range since the lockdown started, but I realise that the situation is out of my control. We as athletes have to adapt and be creative so that we can train in some form. I have come up with new exercises and drills to keep in touch with my skills.

DSD: You know what a period without your gun is like having overcome a serious injury a few years ago. Has that experience helped you sail through this?

Rahi Sarnobat: Absolutely. When I was out of action due to my injury, I had to deal with the problem alone. While I was recovering, my fellow shooters were winning medals at major events, so I was naturally insecure about my place in the team and thought I would be replaced. So as a result, mentally it is easier for me to deal with this coronavirus crisis because all of us are in it together. I learnt so much from the time when I was injured, I was out for an entire year and I wasn't even able to touch my weapon, let alone train. Whereas during this crisis, I am able to train in some form, so for me personally this is definitely a better situation.

DSD: Do you consider yourself fortunate to have made a last-minute change in your plans to head home to Kolhapur from Pune just before the lockdown kicked in.

Rahi Sarnobat: Initially I didn't want to come to Kolhapur. I got done with a tournament in Delhi on the march 17 and then I was supposed to go to Pune for a camp scheduled to begin on April 1. So I thought I would travel to Pune from Delhi and stay there till the camp begins, but my brother insisted that I come to Kolhapur and assess the situation from here. Fortunately for me, I listened to him and I have been here with my family since the lockdown began.

DSD: Your training base in Pune, the Balewadi Sports Complex is now a full-fledged quarantine facility, so clearly heading back there is not possible at the moment.

Rahi Sarnobat: In a way, I feel very proud that the complex I train in, is contributing significantly to the fight against the coronavirus. However, I certainly miss training in that complex and I don't think I will get the opportunity to train there this year. Pune is one of the worst-hit cities in India and the city desperately needs facilities where people can be quarantined or treated.


DSD: The thing about the Indian sportsperson though is that they always find a way past a crisis, you haven't waited for sports facilities to open and you are trying to get the range in your city of Kolhapur operational.

Rahi Sarnobat: Fortunately the municipal authorities and sports authorities have been extremely cooperative in this matter. We are trying to get the shooting range here up and running, but we realise that a lot of work has to be put in by the authorities. It is definitely a challenge to open up a sports facility during the coronavirus crisis, but I am happy to say that the authorities are doing their utmost to ensure that athletes get back to training. It is crucial for athletes like me, who have qualified for the Olympics, to return to outdoor training. The authorities are giving us positive updates regarding the reopening of the facility on a daily basis, so hopefully, I will be back out there soon.

DSD: Did you think of heading into a quarantine camp like is being suggested by the Indian Olympic Association, you can drive to Bengaluru where the SAI campus is already under lockdown. there are hostel facilities and the men's and women's hockey teams are there. Does that make sense?

Rahi Sarnobat: I think right now I am comfortable here in Kolhapur as the shooting range is going to reopen very soon. I have all the shooting equipment available, including guns and ammunition. Also, no one knows when the situation is going to improve considerably, so these are very uncertain times. If a camp is organised, then how long will it go on for? So I think it is better for athletes to remain in a secure environment where they will be able to sustain themselves for a long period of time. In my opinion, travelling isn't safe at the moment, but in the future when the situation improves, maybe I will consider going to such a camp. Right now I am comfortable in Kolhapur.

DSD: I was speaking to Sebastian Coe last week and he said that the sportsperson is extremely resilient. After winning the Asian games gold and then the Olympic quota at the Munich world cup you were set for the Olympics. Now how do you deal with this pause?

Rahi Sarnobat: It will definitely affect our preparation and planning in the lead up to the Olympics. Now, we have to go back to the drawing board for our plan, but even to come up with a plan, we need a shooting calendar. We have no idea when competitions will return at the moment, so all we can do is wait. I think athletes should set themselves short-term goals for the next couple of weeks or a month. They can work on aspects of their game which they otherwise wouldn't get a chance to work on because of the hectic schedule. The one positive that we can draw from the postponement is that the games are 14 months away, so we have enough time to rest and return to outdoor training to get back into the groove.

DSD: Momentum is crucial in sport, you were building up well to Tokyo 2020, how does one get that rhythm back, especially in a tough event like yours where there are two distinct aspects, precision and duelling...

Rahi Sarnobat: Undoubtedly momentum is very important in sport. I don't think the Olympics will be the only event that will take place next year. There will definitely be events leading up to the games which will allow us to get our rhythm back. We have to take those tournaments extremely seriously and try to get our momentum back. I believe domestic competitions will be held by the end of the year and international competitions will resume in the early part of next year, so that should give us enough time to properly prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.


DSD: Do you think it is essential to hold domestic competitions from September or October so that once the international calendar resumes, our shooters are in the competitive zone at least.

Rahi Sarnobat: Domestic competitions should resume very soon, but I think only small-scale events will be possible. Events with more than 50 shooters will be very difficult to organise, so holding a full-fledged national championship is out of the question. Maybe, a tournament can be organised for the top 10 national shooters of every event. In terms of online shooting, it is only possible for 10-metre events, for the 25m, 50m and shotgun events, it is necessary to be outdoors or at the shooting range. Even a small-scale competition will be extremely helpful for the shooters because that is what keeps us motivated. It will give us a much-needed push.

DSD: As a top shooter, who is going for a medal at the Olympics and needs to stay in the competitive zone, do we have the bench strength to hold competitions that in some way match up to the international level events.

Rahi Sarnobat: Five or ten years ago, the scenario was different, when India had only 1-2 shooters who were elite international athletes. However, now we are a global shooting superpower, there are at least 4 shooters in each category who have excelled at the international level in the last few years. Having said that, we cannot hold tournaments with just these 4-5 shooters, we need at least 8 participants in a competition for it to have the feel of an international event. Also, I feel that the nature of competition is not very important after such a prolonged break, any sort of competition will be helpful for the shooters. Something is better than nothing.

DSD: There is a huge question mark over the Olympics even now despite the postponement Rahi. Does that bother you as someone who was heading in as a medal contender?

Rahi Sarnobat: I am trying to be as positive as I can. No athlete prepares for just one Olympic games in their careers, every sportsperson aims to excel in all events they participate in. If these games do not happen, then I will start preparing for the 2024 Games. However, for some athletes, who are entering the twilight of their careers, a year's postponement can make a world of a difference. Even in physical sports, like athletics, the postponement could be very difficult to deal with. We as shooters are in a way lucky that ours is not a very physical sport.

The IOC has given us a date and we have to continue preparing for the Tokyo Olympics with that date in mind unless an official announcement is made regarding the cancellation of the event, that is the only option we have. This year as well, till the official announcement was made regarding the postponement, I was training for the July 2020 Olympics. There was a lot of speculation for more than a month about the games, but that didn't stop me from training. It is only when the official announcement was made that I stopped my training for the July 2020 games. So, I will follow the same principle for the 2021 games. Even if the Olympics are cancelled, then the training that I put in will not be worthless, it will definitely help me in future competitions.

DSD: Shooting is a very fickle sport and a lot of it depends on that day. Do you see this period of uncertainty extending into the shooting calendar that if and when the season resume there are going to be some very skewed results?

Rahi Sarnobat: Yes that might be a possibility. Different countries are at varying stages of dealing with the pandemic, so that means that in terms of training, it is not a level playing field for all athletes in the world at the moment. That might change in a few months and we might see shooters back at ranges. However, there is still more than a year to go for the games and I do believe that shooters will get enough time to prepare. We might see the overall shooting scores decrease slightly, but I don't think there will be a completely new set of medalists at the Tokyo Games. We won't see a shooter come out of anywhere and win a medal. The world's top shooters will still be competing for that coveted prize.


DSD: Have you sort of adjusted to the fact that your coach may not be able to be with you for a substantial portion of the months leading up to the Olympics from now and what will be the alternative?

Rahi Sarnobat: The contract that I had with my personal coach, Munkhbayar Dorksuren, was only till July 2020. I am right now in two minds about renewing my contract, but frankly, I don't think it is feasible for me to keep a personal coach. I think am ready to be guided by the team coaches. My former personal coach, Munkhbayar Dorksuren, was a great mentor for me over the past few years and she has made me an independent shooter, so that has put me in a good position to go forward. Also, I have now been shooting for over 15 years and have gained a lot of experience, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem for me to be without a coach. I think I am capable enough to adapt and I will do my best to remain at the top level.

DSD: The thing with Indian shooting is that even though we have 15 Olympic qualified shooters heading to Tokyo, there is very little coordination between most shooters as it is largely an individual sport, but considering the present situation would it be better for everyone to keep exchanging notes through this period.

Rahi Sarnobat: I think all 15 of us are keeping in touch in some form. The situation was different a few years ago, when there wasn't as much communication between shooters, that is not the case now. We have spent a lot of time with each other and we do exchange notes from time to time. The younger generation of shooters are very friendly, they are always willing to learn and ask a lot of questions. They are hungry, enthusiastic, energetic and curious. That's a very positive sign for the team. I like to spend time with them because it reminds me of my youth and it re-energises me. The NRAI made it a point to create a team atmosphere among Indian shooters and I must say that is working. There is a great camaraderie among all of us, which maybe wasn't there in the Indian team a few years back.

DSD: What is your advice to your fellow shooters, many of whom are pretty young and were headed to their first Olympics?

Rahi Sarnobat: Frankly speaking, I feel like asking them for advice sometimes as they are such skilled shooters. I don't even know if there is anything I can tell them which will improve their game, such is their level. The scenario when I was starting out my career about ten years back, was very different from what it is now. The young shooters were very excited for the 2020 Tokyo Games, ready to win multiple medals and I must say they were prepared to do so. They were training superbly and everything was in place for them to excel. The postponement has inconvenienced us all, but the games will hopefully still go ahead. My advice to them would be to stay patient. If they are able to do so, I have no doubt in my mind that they will achieve their goals.