Like every sportsperson has a shelf life, every coach, no matter how good he is in his subject, too has an expiry date. Perhaps, national shooting coach, Sunny Thomas, has finally realised that it's better to bow out in a blaze of glory, what with two marksmen --- Vijay Kumar and Gagan Narang --- returning with medals around their necks from London.
It's been a 'fruitful' 19 years for the genial Thomas, who hails from Kerala, an academician who took to coaching because he wanted to 'popularise' the sport in his state. Incidentally, the growth of the sport coincided with Thomas taking over the reins, and in the last two decades Indian shooters have only learnt to hit the bullseye.
Thomas became the face of Indian shooting and everyone clamoured for his precious bytes --- and inside information --- to embellish their copies. Thomas gave the impression that all was well with Indian shooting. Marksmen respected him because he had built an aura around himself, which only grew after he received the Dronacharya Award in 2001.
But what kept perplexing those engrossed in the sport was whether Thomas was earning his stripes as a coach.
Jaspal Rana, the face of Indian shooting in the '90s, owed his success to Australian coach Tibor Gonczol, rifle shooters, including Anjali Bhagwat and Suma Shirur, though full of reverence for Thomas, gave credit for their success to Szucsak Laszlo, while shotgun shooters like RVS Rathore, Ronjan Sodhi, Manavjit Singh and the likes, have right through been either self-trained or guided by coaches like Alexandr Assanov, Marcello Dradi, Russell Mark, etc.
So, where does Thomas fit into the scheme of things? Indian sport is a comedy of errors whereby the one who actually helps build an athlete's career never gets his due, while the coach appointed by the federations walks away with name, fame, glory --- and more importantly the moolah.
Credit for success
Rathore may have never taken Thomas' guidance at the shotgun range, but the reward, which came with him winning silver in Athens (2004), went to the national coach. If one starts compiling the list of rewards given by the ministry to the national coach, it would run into crores.
The fact is that an entire generation of shooters has been inspired by the Rathores, Abhinavs and Manavjits and their dreams 'funded' by the sports ministry.
With Thomas finally deciding to call it a day, one hopes he is able to popularise shooting in his home state.
Indian shooting may have touched the sky, but his home state Kerala is where it was 19 years back — in the backwaters.
‘Criticism helped me grow’
National shooting coach, Sunny Thomas, plans to enjoy life after retirement. In a discipline, which demands precision, Thomas says leisure was a term alien to him. “It has been a hectic life … I had huge responsibility on my shoulders, but now I want to spend sometime in my backyard," Thomas told HT on Monday.
Among his plans are to take shooting in Kerala, the state he hails from, to the next level. “I will be actively involved in the game's development in the state,” he said.
In coordination with the NRAI, Thomas is going to set up a shooting academy in Trivandrum. The homework has been done. “Since I will have more time, I can lend direction to the project," said Thomas.
Though in its infancy, the Shooting Sports Foundation in India has the support of international shooters, who have agreed to impart lessons to youngsters. With time, foreign experts will also be roped in.
It's a new venture for Thomas, but he is set to move forward.
“When I became national coach, I did not have any experience of coaching. I accepted criticism and moved ahead. I don't have the experience of running an academy, but…there is time to learn," he said.
Thomas also made it clear that he hadn't resigned, but was reluctant to renew his contract, which runs out at the end of this month. -- Navneet Singh