NATIONAL SHOOTING coach Sunny Thomas on Wednesday emphatically said that the Indian team's 44-day Australian sojourn was not to test the back-up marksmen for the Olympic Games in Beijing.
"That is absolutely rubbish…we have not formed any back-up squad for the marksmen who have qualified for the Olympics. They have all qualified in World Cups and World Championships and only they will represent country, barring some unforeseen circumstances or if the performance of any given shooter dips drastically," said Thomas who returned along with the team from Australia a couple of days back. The tour was probably the longest international training-cum-competition stint.
There have been rumours that the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) had formed a 'back-up' squad of seven marksmen in pistol and rifle categories who would replace any of the Olympic quota winners if their performance dipped.
India have bagged a total of nine quota places in shooting, with six of them being in rifle and pistol. "We have just made a core group of 13 shooters (six Olympic qualifiers and seven other top marksmen) so that they can train together…basically act as training partners.
“There are times when our Olympic qualifiers have to shoot alone, so in order to give them worthy competition, we have included seven others in that core group," said Thomas from Thiruvananthapuram.
The veteran coach said that under extreme circumstances (read extremely poor scores) one has to think of the country rather than an individual. "The position (of shooters) after the three World Cups --- in Beijing, Germany and Italy --- would be clear by May 30 and unless there is a really poor showing, we won't substitute any qualifier with their training partner," he said.
On the none-too-impressive performance of rifle shooter Avneet Kaur Sidhu --- who earned the country a quota place in 10m air rifle --- after the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, Thomas said the performance of every shooter comes down at some point, but then they recover. "It doesn't mean we will replace Avneet with Suma Shirur or Priya Aggarwal (who are also in the core group). Yes, but if someone is really, really doing badly, we will have to rethink," said Thomas.
He said that in order to ensure that there was no pressure on the Olympic shooters a decision had been taken not to hold any trials per se.
"We are only watching their progress…even in Australia, we told the shooters to concentrate on scores and not bother about medals.
"We would be leaving for Hannover in Germany for training with the core group of 13 shooters after the Beijing World Cup in April. It's not to pit one against the other, but to give the Olympic qualifiers a healthy competition. He said that going by form, veteran rifle shooter Anjali Vedpathak, who qualified for Beijing in rifle 3-position, would be concentrating more on 10m air rifle. "She is shooting some superb scores," he said.
The core group
Samresh Jung, Avneet Kaur Sidhu, Anjali Bhagwat, Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang and Sanjeev Rajput.
Tejaswani Sawant, Suma Shirur, Priya Aggarwal, Omkar Singh, Vivek Singh, PT Ragunath and Amanpreet Singh.