After Tokyo debacle, pistol shooter Abhishek Verma for one coach in command
- India’s federation and the elite shooters are reviewing their showing in Japan after the sport failed to deliver a medal for the second Olympics in a row.
Three months after their disastrous showing at the Tokyo Olympics, Indian shooters are still picking up the pieces, trying to make sense of what had hit them. Some returned to competitive action recently, taking fresh aim at the President’s Cup in Poland.
Even as a National Rifle Association of India panel brainstorms over what could have led to such a debacle—India didn’t win a medal for the second Olympics in a row—considering the same bunch had raised the pitch with world class performances in the lead up to the Games, the shooters themselves have been dissecting every aspect of their preparation that could have had an adverse impact.
Pistol shooter Abhishek Verma played in his first event post Olympics at the President's Cup in Wroclaw, Poland earlier this month, winning bronze in 10m air pistol. Saurabh Chaudhary won silver. Verma was relieved to make a strong comeback after the disappointment of finishing 17th in qualification at Tokyo.
“I took a break of two-and-a-half months from shooting because I wanted to make a fresh start. From 2017 I never took a break. The performance at the Olympics was not good and I thought I need to analyse and recharge. I was very inspired by our para shooters’ performance in the Paralympics. I started training in October and it felt really good to win a bronze medal in the President's Cup,” Verma said.
The 32-year-old lawyer-turned-shooter, who rose to world No 1 in the lead up to the Olympics, said he spent a lot of time analysing his game and felt he had underestimated the pressure that comes with such a big event.
“Olympics is a very big platform and I was not mentally prepared,” Verma was forthright. “I did not know what kind of mental stress we have to cope with at the Olympics. I was taking it as just another competition but as the match day came nearer, you see everyone around you sending their best wishes and all the talk about the shooting team winning medals. There are more people talking and getting involved. You feel the whole of India is expecting you to do well. It kind of built on and that pressure got onto me. I could feel how much expectations I was carrying and that I had to give my best. It is a different kind of pressure that I had never faced before. Had there been some counselling or preparation for how to tackle it, I think I would have fared better.”
At Tokyo, Verma made a terrible start in qualification with a card of 94, but bounced back brilliantly in the next four rounds and came close to making the cut for the final. A couple of bad shots towards the end when he had to rush with his shots under time pressure dashed his hopes. It didn’t help that foreign coach Pavel Smirnov was not with the team in Tokyo.
“I’ve been training under Pavel since 2018. In every competition he used to sit behind me. He knew everything about my shooting, weaknesses and strengths. So, him not being there did not help matters. Maybe I could have fared better with Pavel around,” said Verma, the Asian Games bronze medallist.
“We reached Tokyo and had four days of training, (and) I was without a coach. It was Saurabh (Chaudhary) and Manu‘s (Bhaker) coaches who were trying to help me out. I heard Pavel would join later but that never happened.”
Providing the right support staff to the shooters was one area that came in for criticism as the shooters faced early elimination one after another, falling way behind their best recorded scores. The team wore a disjointed and frustrated look. There were accusations flying all over. The six-week training stint in Croatia in the build-up also came under the scanner.
NRAI has now spoken to the shooters and coaches to formulate the way forward for the next Olympics cycle. Verma said the one thing that must be done is have a single command in coaching.
“When I joined the national camp in 2018, there were three or four coaches guiding us. There used to be some confusion. From 2019, Pavel sir got more involved in my training and I discussed everything with him. But in certain things he didn’t have the decision-making power, other coaches had it. So, I think one coach should be the deciding authority in national camps. It should not be like three-four coaches giving their advice and next you have some other coach coming. That leads to confusion.”
Verma wants to take his time chalking out a plan on how to prepare for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“I am still talking to various people. I will take stock of everything and decide what all I need—trainer, physio, mental trainer. I want to be more in control as far as coaching is concerned. I don’t want to be in the same situation again where you don’t know who will be sitting behind you.”