Air pistol shooter Heena Sidhu looked as if she had no energy left to even lift her backpack, rifle marksman Joydeep Karmakar did not hide behind the complexity of words when he said he was “terribly jetlagged” and Shweta Chaudhary kept talking endlessly about the problem in her neck and back due to the hours spent in rigorous training on the range.
Beijing Olympic Games gold-medallist, Abhinav Bindra, endured a dodgy back long before he won the World Championship title at Zagreb in 2006.
For a moment it might look odd why these shooters, who simply have to stand and take aim at the target, are getting injured. One might also argue that it is the wrestlers, boxers and track and field athletes who should be complaining about these things.
But the way shooters are exerting their bodies --- jet-setting all the time for training, exposure trips and competitions --- it’s time the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) finds a way to prolong their careers.
Though India won a gold and a bronze on the inaugural day of the Asian Games on Saturday, there were murmurs that shooters want better chalked-out itineraries, fewer training days and some much-needed rest.
Former world No 1 air pistol shooter Heena Sidhu said she was “eddy” due to fatigue. “My sighters were going haywire, so it was a struggle after that. I kept taking breaks to re-focus but in vain.”
Sidhu arrived from the World Championships in Granada and says that despite all the training for the Games, the jetlag had done the damage. “These last four days, I haven’t been able to sleep. I wake up at 3:30 in the night and then keep awake till the morning.”
National pistol coach Mohinder Lal said, “These shooters are under a lot of pressure competing all year round,” when asked about Sidhu and Malaika Goel’s poor scores in 10m air pistol.
Mental trainer Vaibhav Agashe, the man behind the success of rifle marksman Gagan Narang and many more shooters, too conceded that “it is tough on the shooters’ bodies to compete non-stop.”
So, who gives them the break and when. Cricket has not yet recognised that players need rest to recover, pushing them from one tournament to another for lucrative telecast contracts. The BCCI says it has not stopped players from opting out, though it hardly happens.
In the shooters’ case, quite a few of them come from modest to poor backgrounds and want to make hay as long as it lasts. Then, there is the lure of training and competing on foreign soil for months coupled with the attraction of daily allowance.
Perhaps, the NRAI would do well to address this issue and device a model similar to China, where one team is not sent to every nook and corner of the world. India has the reservoir --- or is close to one --- to cobble together more than one set of shooters to represent the country.