The cream of Indian shooting admired, applauded and expressed gratitude to former national coach Prof. Sunny Thomas, who will turn 80 on Sunday.
“I want to thank you for the guidance and support you provided me throughout my sporting career,” former World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra said.
He added: “As a patient and understanding mentor, you kept us going, through the tough times. Thank you for being a pillar of strength and nurturing me to unfurl my fullest potential.”
A retired English professor of St. Stephen’s College in Uzhavoor, Kerala, Thomas was the national coach from 1993 till 2012. It was a golden era of Indian shooting as he kept the team together on the path of progress.
“It is definitely not a surprise that all our four Olympic medals in shooting came during your glorious tenure as the coach of the national team,” Abhinav said.
Prof. Thomas, who was presented with the Dronacharya award in 2001, had a remarkably fruitful stint, guiding the team to hundreds of medals – in five Olympics, six World Championships, more than 50 World Cups, six Asian Games and five Commonwealth Games.
‘Light in the dark’
“A student’s success is determined by the calibre of the teacher. A good teacher is like a light in the dark. To me, Sunny sir was that light when I started my career. I feel blessed to have had Sunny sir at all important junctures of my career,” World and Olympic medallist Gagan Narang, who had phenomenal success at all levels, said.
Former world record holder, Olympic finalist, and current coach with the national team, Suma Shirur, acknowledged Prof. Thomas’ ability to bind the rifle, pistol and shotgun shooters as a team.
“You understood us, trusted us and we had the trust in you,” said Suma as she recalled being convinced about her world record of 400 only when Prof. Thomas told her, in those days of paper targets.
She expressed gratitude for all the support for her Lakshya Club in Panvel, as Prof. Thomas was there for the foundation stone laying ceremony and later as the chief guest for the prize distribution.
The pioneer of rifle shooting Anjali Bhagwat, who made the breakthrough in the global arena after making the final in the Sydney Olympics, said, “I feel glad that I achieved all my success and medals during your tenure. I remember how happy you were when I won my first World Cup medal in Sydney. And how proud you were with my four gold medals with new records in the Manchester Commonwealth Games.”
“You truly understood what is match pressure, the shooter’s psychology, focus. I’m thankful for such support, affection and care from you. Without you, it wouldn’t have been possible to get all the success as a team. I was fortunate to shoot all my major competitions under your guidance,” said Anjali.
Another coach with the Olympic team, Deepali Deshpande, said, “I came into the national team as a teenager. Throughout my sporting career, I always felt safe and protected because of you. We always knew you were behind us and we could shoot without any worries, and focus on performance.”
Appreciating the ability of Prof. Thomas to unite the team and bind it well, Deepali said, “Now as a coach, I understand how difficult it is. You did it with ease. In an individual sport like shooting, to keep the team together and maintaining the bond for 20 years was amazing.”
Another seasoned shooter and coach now, Kuheli Gangulee, said, “We are missing your presence in the Indian team at the moment. You are an inspiration to all of us, and a great leader.”
After having drawn a blank in the last two Olympics in Rio and Tokyo, Indian shooting does appreciate the remarkable role played by Prof. Thomas while heartily greeting him “happy birthday.”