India’s legacy in Shooting is not something which can be decried or ignored; especially when it has been the source for a major chunk of world level medals that this country has received over the years. For a long time, India’s monopoly in Shooting had been challenged by only a few. Perhaps, it is a mark of how thoroughly the sport has developed when, today, we see Junior circuit players standing shoulder to shoulder with their predecessors and often defeating them.
In the past, Manu Bhaker has been quoted as saying about how she credits National Junior Pistol Coach Jaspal Rana for her meteoric rise which has now allowed her to rub shoulders among the best in the world. In fact, the sixteen-year-old wasted no time in establishing herself as a force to reckon with.
Her international debut in the senior circuit was probably a memorable one- something that this youngster with a bright future will undoubtedly look back on after enjoying years of success.
And indeed, the fight was a close one. Bhaker had to face off against Mexico’s Alejandra Zavala, a two-time World Cup medalist and France’s Celine Goberville, who has three medals at World Cups. Keeping control of her nerves in what was undoubtedly a high-pressure shoot-off, Manu ended up with 10.8 in the final shot for a total of 237.5. Her Gold was India’s fourth medal in the tournament which had so far been dominated by the similar prodigal performances of names like Mehuli Ghosh.
“It’s impossible to avoid pressure when faced with situations like this,” says her coach Jaspal Rana. “I cannot be naive enough to say that a few words of motivation might make these young shooters give up their fears. It doesn’t work that way.”
“As a coach, my part is to teach them how to cope with the stress and the burden of expectations that it will inevitably be present. It’s a big stage, your competitors are seasoned shooters. Fortunately, my rapport with my students allows me to deal with all of them in the best possible way.”
“I can talk to each of them personally; I can deal with every single person in a way that they would best understand. It often works out.”
The job of a national coach is definitely one which comes with a baggage of responsibility attached to it. Not only is one faced with the task of grooming sportspersons and getting them ready to compete on the biggest platforms of them all, you’re also in charge of an athlete’s most formative years- a time that is quite crucial in laying the foundation of one’s future career.
“The selections for the Junior World Cup in Sydney has seen shooters shine in quite a few disciplines. One of the most important things to remember is that each of your wards has potential. The job is yours to harness them correctly,” he says
“It would be quite unfair if say shooters like Yashaswini (Singh Deswal), Manu or Anish are given special treatment. To make them worthy enough for the bigger challenges they must face, they receive high-level training. However, no one is neglected. They’re all carefully honed, their skills observantly developed with similar care.”
“Somewhere, we have to use to our advantage the fact that we have world level shooters among us. The sport should not be restricted to or completely dependent on these few names. It’s important to keep developing it and not being satisfied with a few remarkable success stories.”
It would, perhaps, be prudent to mention here that Jaspal Rana is probably the best person to guide these youngsters as they must mould their minds towards getting used to fame and money at this young an age. At 16, when most of their peers indulge in things which are completely different, suddenly being thrust into the limelight would not be an easy situation for someone who is not prepared to cope with it. “At a young age, you don’t realise the gravity of these things,” Rana says.
“The bigger challenge is maintaining this momentum. That takes almost double the hard work required to reach this level in the first place. A lot of mental counselling is required to be able to come to grips with the sudden attention that you are paid at this impressionable age.”
And indeed, the varied pool of talent that Rana refers to has certainly reaped results in the ongoing Sydney Junior World Cup where India ended the tourney placed Second in the medal tally behind leaders China. Apart from the big names of Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala, the tournament was the perfect opportunity for talented kids like Elavenil Valarivan, Vivaan Kapoor, Anhad Jawanda and Adarsh Singh.
As someone who has been closely associated with the grassroots, Rana ideally looks for more upcoming names in his discipline- anyone with the talent which can be groomed for greatness. As such, where the Khelo India School Games stand as an effective tool for targetting and identifying these talents?
“See, the effect of Khelo India, positive or otherwise, will be apparent after a few years. Right now, it is in its infancy and any speculation would not be based on anything much. It’s just a platform for now.”
“Whether or not the scheme will actually reap benefits in terms of medals for the country remains to be seen. I am sure, with time, the program will learn from its inevitable mistakes and loose ends enough to develop into something great.”
Perhaps the one thing which has caused a major setback to the development and upward rise of shooting in the country is the recent snub the discipline received by the Commonwealth Games Federation. The result was that Birmingham 2022 will not feature the sport. There was even a tongue in cheek reference to the Indian dominance in the discipline in the official statement that seemed to suggest an unfair advantage that India held in Shooting.
“It’s quite sad, actually,” says Rana, a heavyweight in Shooting at the Commonwealth and India’s highest medal winner in the tournament. “Anyone can clearly see that this decision was targeted especially at India. This is a discipline that India has long dominated in.”
“Ideally, this should have brought out a strong reaction from Indian authorities. This is one sport which has completely dominated the charts in its contribution to medals in the country. If it’s completely removed from a major discipline, how can this upcoming bunch of shooters hope to improve.”
On the other hand, however, there are always two ways to look at things. “I choose to see the positive side of this decision,” he adds.
“We have no competition in the Commonwealth Games. Yet, we always prepare for it with equal diligence and vigour. Now we have the option of completely concentrating on the Olympics. That’s undoubtedly a different ball-game altogether- the biggest stage of them all.”
“The 2016 edition may have disappointed in terms of our shooters chalking out medal-winning scores and performances but they put up a competitive challenge. Ups and Downs are a part of life.”
With such a clear philosophy in place, it is easy to see why Jaspal Rana’s students are reaping the benefits that they are over the recent past. There can be no question about the fact that the future of Indian shooting is safe in the capable hands of one of India’s shooting legends.