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Tokyo 2020: Rift in shooting contingent after poor show

Things came to a head when Rana arrived at the range for a practice session during the March World Cup wearing a shirt in which he had inscribed an angry text that Bhaker had sent him.
By Avishek Roy, Tokyo
PUBLISHED ON JUL 27, 2021 09:34 PM IST
PREMIUM
India's Elavenil Valarivan and Divyansh Singh Panwar at Tokyo Olympics 2020(PTI)

They went to Tokyo 2020 heralded as India’s brightest medal prospects. On Thursday, when India’s air rifle and air pistol shooters ended their campaign not just without a medal, but also with only one out of eight shooters in six events managing to enter a final, the lid blew off a controversy over fractious player-coach relationships within the shooting squad.

“We are going to see an overhaul of Indian coaching staff, for sure. We are no longer going to be held at ransom,” National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president, Raninder Singh, said immediately after the 10m air rifle mixed pair event, in which Divyansh Panwar and Elavenil Valarivan bowed out in the qualifying round.

A few hours earlier, teenagers Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhury, exited the mixed pair 10m air pistol event at the qualifying stage as well.

“There was only one person who was a negative factor in the whole thing, and I’m calling it out right now, it was Jaspal Rana,” said Singh, referring to the four-time Asian Games gold medallist who is now one of the pistol coaches for India’s elite shooters.

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“But this performance is not Rana’s fault,” Singh said.

Though Rana was with the Indian Olympic shooting contingent for a two-month preparatory camp in Osijek, Croatia, he has not travelled to Tokyo.

According to Singh, the problems began during the ISSF shooting World Cup in New Delhi in March, when Rana and Bhaker had a falling out.

“Both sides were not willing to work because of various instances they cited,” Raninder said. “The girl cited something, parents said something, and Jaspal in his defence cited something. I tried twice (to intervene) during the World Cup in Delhi, and once after that.”

Things came to a head when Rana arrived at the range for a practice session during the March World Cup wearing a shirt in which he had inscribed an angry text that Bhaker had sent him. Singh said that no disciplinary action was taken after the incident.

“It was called out. But please understand when you are in the build up to the Olympics, as head of the family you have to keep everyone together,” he said. “But this performance is not Rana’s fault.”

Rana did not respond to multiple calls and messages sent to him for comment. Bhaker’s father Ram Kishan Bhaker, who manages her career, said he did not want to comment on the controversy. “Whatever the federation head is saying is right,” he said.

Former shooter Ronak Pandit was appointed as Bhaker’s coach after the World Cup.

After her second setback in Tokyo -- she got out in the individual 10m pistol qualification round on date after losing time due to a jammed weapon -- Bhaker appeared to address the controversy. “I didn’t choose to change my coach,” she said. When asked whether she wanted to train under Rana, she said, “It’s not about me wanting. It’s that he didn’t seem right at the moment.”

Bhaker is also the only shooter in the contingent competing in three different medal events — her last event, 25m pistol precision, is on July 29 (qualifying), with the final on the next day.

It appeared that her competing in three events was part of the disagreement with Rana, who was not in favour of it.

“I have been competing in three events regularly and the other event is completely different. I am already preparing for it,” said Bhaker. Her father said that she did not sound confident when he spoke to her on Tuesday. “I asked her to move on. She has two days to recover from this loss,” Ram Kishan said.

Since 2019, Bhaker, 19, has been one of the top shooters in the world, winning nine gold medals at world cups, the Asian Shooting Championship in 2019, the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold, and the 2018 Youth Olympics gold.

These medals all came while working with Rana: he was in charge of the junior development programme before being drafted into the senior team last year.

Rana was also in charge of Chaudhary, who became India’s youngest gold medallist at the 2018 Asian Games when he was 16. He went on to win eight world cup golds before making the Tokyo squad.

In his first senior world cup in 2019, Chaudhary shot a world record score in the men’s 10m air pistol final and won a second gold, pairing with Bhaker in the mixed team event. The two then won gold in mixed team in all four world cups that year before the pandemic cancelled out the 2020 shooting calendar. When shooting resumed again in 2021, Bhaker and Chaudhary won gold and silver in the only two world cups preceding the Olympics.

This kind of dominance on the global stage made them favourites going into the Olympics, especially in the mixed team.

“It doesn’t matter whether we believe it or not but it has happened already,” Bhaker said about their exit in the qualifying round in mixed team at the Olympics. “It was our first Olympics. Sometimes you don’t have control over things when you try way too hard or expect things.”

The two teenagers stood staunchly next to each other outside the shooting range, answering questions.

Indian shooters still have three more events coming up. Manu Bhaker and Rahi Sarnobat in 25m pistol, Sanjeev Rajput, Anjum Moudgil and Tejaswini Sawant in 50m rifle 3 positions (individual men’s and women’s).

They went to Tokyo 2020 heralded as India’s brightest medal prospects. On Thursday, when India’s air rifle and air pistol shooters ended their campaign not just without a medal, but also with only one out of eight shooters in six events managing to enter a final, the lid blew off a controversy over fractious player-coach relationships within the shooting squad.

“We are going to see an overhaul of Indian coaching staff, for sure. We are no longer going to be held at ransom,” National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president, Raninder Singh, said immediately after the 10m air rifle mixed pair event, in which Divyansh Panwar and Elavenil Valarivan bowed out in the qualifying round.

A few hours earlier, teenagers Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhury, exited the mixed pair 10m air pistol event at the qualifying stage as well.

“There was only one person who was a negative factor in the whole thing, and I’m calling it out right now, it was Jaspal Rana,” said Singh, referring to the four-time Asian Games gold medallist who is now one of the pistol coaches for India’s elite shooters.

RELATED STORIES

“But this performance is not Rana’s fault,” Singh said.

Though Rana was with the Indian Olympic shooting contingent for a two-month preparatory camp in Osijek, Croatia, he has not travelled to Tokyo.

According to Singh, the problems began during the ISSF shooting World Cup in New Delhi in March, when Rana and Bhaker had a falling out.

“Both sides were not willing to work because of various instances they cited,” Raninder said. “The girl cited something, parents said something, and Jaspal in his defence cited something. I tried twice (to intervene) during the World Cup in Delhi, and once after that.”

ALSO READ | Tokyo Olympics 2020 Full Coverage

Things came to a head when Rana arrived at the range for a practice session during the March World Cup wearing a shirt in which he had inscribed an angry text that Bhaker had sent him. Singh said that no disciplinary action was taken after the incident.

“It was called out. But please understand when you are in the build up to the Olympics, as head of the family you have to keep everyone together,” he said. “But this performance is not Rana’s fault.”

Rana did not respond to multiple calls and messages sent to him for comment. Bhaker’s father Ram Kishan Bhaker, who manages her career, said he did not want to comment on the controversy. “Whatever the federation head is saying is right,” he said.

Former shooter Ronak Pandit was appointed as Bhaker’s coach after the World Cup.

After her second setback in Tokyo -- she got out in the individual 10m pistol qualification round on date after losing time due to a jammed weapon -- Bhaker appeared to address the controversy. “I didn’t choose to change my coach,” she said. When asked whether she wanted to train under Rana, she said, “It’s not about me wanting. It’s that he didn’t seem right at the moment.”

Bhaker is also the only shooter in the contingent competing in three different medal events — her last event, 25m pistol precision, is on July 29 (qualifying), with the final on the next day.

It appeared that her competing in three events was part of the disagreement with Rana, who was not in favour of it.

“I have been competing in three events regularly and the other event is completely different. I am already preparing for it,” said Bhaker. Her father said that she did not sound confident when he spoke to her on Tuesday. “I asked her to move on. She has two days to recover from this loss,” Ram Kishan said.

Since 2019, Bhaker, 19, has been one of the top shooters in the world, winning nine gold medals at world cups, the Asian Shooting Championship in 2019, the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold, and the 2018 Youth Olympics gold.

These medals all came while working with Rana: he was in charge of the junior development programme before being drafted into the senior team last year.

Rana was also in charge of Chaudhary, who became India’s youngest gold medallist at the 2018 Asian Games when he was 16. He went on to win eight world cup golds before making the Tokyo squad.

In his first senior world cup in 2019, Chaudhary shot a world record score in the men’s 10m air pistol final and won a second gold, pairing with Bhaker in the mixed team event. The two then won gold in mixed team in all four world cups that year before the pandemic cancelled out the 2020 shooting calendar. When shooting resumed again in 2021, Bhaker and Chaudhary won gold and silver in the only two world cups preceding the Olympics.

This kind of dominance on the global stage made them favourites going into the Olympics, especially in the mixed team.

“It doesn’t matter whether we believe it or not but it has happened already,” Bhaker said about their exit in the qualifying round in mixed team at the Olympics. “It was our first Olympics. Sometimes you don’t have control over things when you try way too hard or expect things.”

The two teenagers stood staunchly next to each other outside the shooting range, answering questions.

Indian shooters still have three more events coming up. Manu Bhaker and Rahi Sarnobat in 25m pistol, Sanjeev Rajput, Anjum Moudgil and Tejaswini Sawant in 50m rifle 3 positions (individual men’s and women’s).

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