Although India’s shooters did not live up to expectations at the Tokyo Olympics, former champion shooter Gagan Narang is confident that the sport will bounce back and India will soon win medals in international shooting competitions again.
What is more, if Gagan’s efforts bear fruit, the next medal winner may be from Hyderabad or Secunderabad. Gagan, who is himself a bronze medalist of the London Olympics in 2012, has got three coaching centres running full swing in the twin cities to spot and train talented boys and girls into champion shooters. Eight coaches have been training about 100 shooters from the twin cities and efforts are on to develop them into top class medal winners.
His Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation (GNSPF) project spread over several cities in India, has already helped to produce several top level shooters including 8 Olympians, 205 international shooters, 1100 national shooters and 1538 state level shooters. 1200 trainees are undergoing coaching in several centres all over India. Elavenil Valarivan, who took part in the Tokyo Olympics, is one of the products of the scheme. The Gun For Glory academies have produced national champions and champion para athletes.
But Gagan laments that it is just one percent of the huge 1300 million population of India who participate in sports. Speaking to siasat.com he said: “We need to have more people taking part in sports of different types. No doubt our haul of seven medals at the Tokyo Olympics was an encouraging sign but considering our population, the number of medals we obtained should have been higher. This will happen only if more people take part in sports.”
“In our project it is our aim to set up academies with sustainable infrastructure, make the fees affordable, remove entry level barriers, provide experts in sports sciences, ensure continuous talent development and introduce innovative programmes for training talent from all over India,” said Gagan.
“The reason why development often lags behind is because the training is unstructured. Besides, there is very limited awareness among the public of what avenues are open to professional sports persons. Nobody knows what will happen if their children take up sports as a profession,” he said.
One of the senior most coaches involved in the scheme is Niranjan Reddy. He is a dedicated shooting coach with vast experience who has set up a shooting range in his own house at his own expense to train shooters. When he was a young man he was a track athlete but switched to shooting later.
He was the inspiration for Gagan Narang to take up shooting. When Gagan was a schoolboy, he used to go to the Country Club in Begumpet and watch Niranjan Reddy practising at the shooting range there. Gagan used to stand quietly behind Niranjan Reddy and observe him. One day the latter asked Gagan if he wanted to try his hand at it.
“I saw a spark in him,” said the coach to siasat.com. “He immediately took up the sport and began to excel at it. And just as I had foreseen, he ended up with an Olympic medal in 2012. Now I have high hopes for four children who are very young. I am training them at my academy. They are Leisha and her brother Surya, Heman and Veer Veekshit Reddy. With these children in school my aim is to make them national level shooters by the time they are in their late teens. Every day they turn up at 4.30am for practice. They are a very disciplined lot too,” he said.
“Actually I began taking an interest in shooting because I wanted my polio affected son Sandesh to take up sport. Because of his problem he could not participate in hectic outdoor sports. So we decided on shooting. Now he has won national medals on seven occasions. I have been a state level medalist for the last 25 years. Both of us have become avid followers of the sport,” said Niranjan Reddy.
“The advent of the lockdown due to COVID has affected our training programmes. My trainees have not been able to come regularly. But hopefully the worst is over now and we can look forward to a better future. India has already been doing well in international meets and if our combined efforts pay dividends, India will get a bagful of medals in shooting in future Olympics,” concluded Coach Niranjan Reddy.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned writer and journalist who has worked with The Hind, among other publications.