The nation had won at least one medal in the sport in three of the last four editions.
Since the turn of the century, shooting has become one of India’s brightest sparks at the Olympics. Boasting a plethora of talented shooters, the current Indian shooting contingent is stronger than ever.
With an unprecedented 15 quota places secured, India had sent their largest-ever shooting contingent in Olympic history. However, the shooters failed to live up to the expectations and performed miserably in Tokyo. The likes of Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary, Abhishek Verma and many others were expected to fetch multiple medals for the nation. However, they didn’t even come close to fulfilling the target.
In the aftermath of the campaign, we dissect the reasons for India’s terrible performance in shooting at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics.
Lack of mental conditioning
The mental aspect of an athlete is extremely crucial, especially at a high-pressure event such as the Olympics. Several of the Indian athletes suffered due to this. There was no high-performance coach to assist the shooters.
A high-performance coach is pivotal to teaching athletes how to handle pressure. Pressure is a constant companion for a shooter. The Indian shooters have fired on all cylinders at the ISSF World Cup in recent years. However, the Olympics are a completely different ball game altogether. Athletes need to know how to deal with pressure and that’s where proper mental conditioning can play such a crucial role.
Unfortunate equipment malfunction
The biggest talking point regarding the Indian shooters in the past week has not been that of winning medals, but Manu Bhaker’s equipment malfunction. The incident took place in Bhaker’s first event at the Olympics, the women’s 10m air pistol qualification round.
Reports suggest that the cocking lever of Manu Bhaker’s pistol had a circuit malfunction. Dealing with such an issue in the middle of the qualification event certainly played a role in her overall performance. She needed to go to the testing tent with her coach and a jury member to find a replacement. This ordeal cost her a lot of time.
The misfortune suffered by the 19-year-old might have played a role in her subsequent events. Just two days after that, Manu Bhaker paired up with Saurabh Chaudhary in the mixed team event. Chaudhary performed well in the event, but Bhaker’s below-par display cost the talented duo. Probably, she was still reeling from the misfortune that she had suffered. Sadly, such a thing happened to Manu Bhaker in the biggest event of her career!
Too much hype
Before the commencement of the Tokyo Olympics, huge expectations were placed on the shoulders of the Indian shooters. It was expected that the Indian shooting contingent will deliver several medals for the country. Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary were expected to do wonders. Yes, they are extremely talented shooters, but are still just 19-years-old.
Sometimes too much hype and expectations can prove to be the cause of the downfall for athletes. The same had happened to star Indian shooter Ronjan Sodhi ahead of the 2012 London Olympics. Big things were expected from Sodhi. He was in terrific form ahead of the Games. However, he crumbled under the weight of expectations in London.
Debut Olympics campaign for several shooters
It must not be forgotten that for several of India’s talented next-generation shooters, Tokyo 2020 was their maiden Olympic campaign. It is good to have youthful exuberance, but possessing experience at such a level is priceless.
India’s lone medalist at the Tokyo Olympics so far, Mirabai Chanu, also had a disappointing Rio Olympics in 2016. Chanu had even failed to finish her event. But, what happened five years from there on, is for everyone to see. It is not always easy to deliver at your maiden Olympics. The hope is that the likes of Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary, Elavenil Valarivan and others will learn from this experience and perform much better at Paris 2024.
No foreign coaches in setup
Talking about coaching, some things need to change in the setup. This is the first time the Indian shooting squad has had an all-Indian coaching setup. Indian coaches don’t always have the insight and calibre that their foreign counterparts have.
For example, the appointment of Graham Reid has completely transformed the Indian men’s hockey team. There has been a recent resurgence and they play with much more confidence now, no matter who the opponent is. It is necessary to be in tune with what is going on around the world in a particular sport. The shooting squad lacked in that department in Tokyo.
Infighting in association
National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president Raninder Singh took aim at the coaching staff and pointed to why India missed the target by such a wide margin. The association chief claimed that internal wrangling within the team, especially among coaches of the pistol team, might have impacted the performances.
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Singh also spoke about issues between Bhaker and her former coach Jaspal Rana, a former World and Asian champion. Now, that the shooters have failed to deliver at the Olympics, there will certainly be blame games. However, without a doubt, there are issues within the association and it has possibly affected the Indian shooters.
Failure to send trap shooters
Another reason for the failure of the Indian shooters is the absence of trap shooters in the squad. It is a category in which India has performed well in the past. India’s first Olympic medal in shooting came from a trap shooter, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore at Athens, 2004.
This time around, despite sending a large contingent of 15 shooters, there were no trap shooters amongst them. Infact, India was without a trap shooter for the first time at the Olympic Games since Barcelona 1992. After the Rio Olympics, the junior shooting program was established for the pistol and rifle events. However, there was a delay for the trap shooters. Due to this, the ground-level improvement was much slower.
The presence of trap shooters would have further boosted India’s challenge in shooting at the Tokyo Olympics. In the last couple of years, the likes of Lakshay Sheoran and Manisha Keer have emerged as promising trap shooters. They will likely be amongst the squad when India travels to the French capital in three years’ time for the Paris Olympics.
Omission of Chinki Yadav
The biggest shock in the Indian shooting fraternity before the Tokyo Olympics was the exclusion of Chinki Yadav from the Indian squad. The World No. 1 in the Women’s 25m Pistol category, Yadav is one of the most talented shooters that the country has produced in recent years.
Surprisingly enough, it is not that the shooter had failed to qualify. Infact, at the 2019 Asian Championships in Doha, Yadav had secured an Olympic quota for India with a career-best qualification score of 588. Despite her great achievements, her omission from the shooting squad is a mystery.
Former Indian shooter Jaspal Rana had stated that justice has been denied to her and he has serious objections to the selections of the NRAI. Due to her shocking omission, Yadav admitted that she went through mental agony. The 23-year-old had secured a gold medal at the ISSF World Cup earlier in 2021 in New Delhi, beating Rahi Sarnobat and Manu Bhaker, before the shocking revelation. Both Bhaker and Sarnobat failed to deliver in the 25m pistol category at the Tokyo Olympics.
The absence of the world’s top shooter proved to be a fatal mistake. Who knows what could have happened if Chinki Yadav would have participated at Tokyo 2020.