The torchbearer of India’s rifle shooting revolution

Among India’s 15-member shooting contingent heading to the Tokyo Olympics, a lot is predicted of the rifle crew. With rifle shooters ranked World No. 1 and people with a number of World Cup medals within the squad, they’re medal contenders, not simply individuals. Such is the competitors for locations that even the inclusion of the reigning World No. 1 Elavenil Valarivan wasn’t assured till the final minute.

This wasn’t all the time the case. There was a time when rifle shooting was a ‘non sport’. When not simply scores however illustration itself was low, and one rifle was shared between 5 shooters. If there was one man who guided Indian rifle shooting by these early darkish days and put it on the trail to success, it was Sanjay Chakravarthy, who died on Saturday aged 79 after struggling issues from COVID-19.

“He laid the foundation stone for what Indian rifle shooting is today. I’m sure Indian shooting would have come up eventually at some point but we would probably be 10 years behind where we are today if it wasn’t for Sanjay sir,” says former world document holder and present nationwide coach Suma Shirur. “If today we are considered the pioneers of rifle shooting, then he was our pioneer,” she says.

It was virtually unintentional that Chakravarthy was the one who put Indian shooting on the trail to success. “I can only call it destiny,” says Anjali Bhagwat. In 2000, Bhagwat grew to become the primary Indian to achieve the Olympic ultimate within the 10m air rifle occasion, however her begin within the sport was much less promising.

In November 1988, Bhagwat and 5 different women within the National Cadet Corps (NCC) had been assigned, by a bit of bureaucratic oversight, to signify Maharashtra within the shooting nationals per week away. “The only reason we were picked is because we were in the NCC, so everyone assumed we knew something about shooting, although we actually didn’t know anything. We were so raw, we went to the wrong range at first. We had no idea how to even load a rifle at that point,” Bhagwat remembers.

“We kept struggling for a bit and no one came around to tell us what to do. That’s when Sanjay sir, on his own, came to us and helped us. He showed us how to shoot. I’d say that was the turning point in life,” says Bhagwat.

It was both a mark of Chakravarthy’s talent or the entire absence of expertise within the nation at that time, however with only a week of coaching, Bhagwat gained a silver on the nationwide championships and ended up deciding to take the game severely.

“Sanjay Chakravarthy laid the foundation stone for what Indian rifle shooting is today. We would probably be 10 years behind where we are today if it wasn’t for Sanjay sir.”

Suma Shirur

Chakravarthy coached Bhagwat and the opposite women who had accompanied her to the shooting vary – together with future Olympian and present nationwide rifle coach Deepali Deshpande. He had competed for the Navy crew and, though retired, had continued to shoot, which is when he met Bhagwat and the others on the Mumbai shooting vary. Over the following few years, a trickle of shooters – together with Shirur in 1992 – additionally started coaching beneath Chakravarthy.

The early days have been laborious, although, with few sources to go round. “Nowadays, even a beginner gets their own rifle. For the first few years, Five other girls and I shared a common rifle. I didn’t get my first personal rifle until eight years after I started shooting,” says Bhagwat. There was little assist, both. “I lived very far from the range. I had to travel four hours by bus every day when I had to practise. It was very tiring,” says Shirur.

Knowledge was scarce as effectively, however Chakravarthy did as a lot as he may. “There was no internet so there was no way to know what the best practices were. But Sanjay sir tried to read all the books he could. He wrote to the ISSF and got the handbooks. He tried to gather the information from everywhere he could,” says Bhagwat. When Chakravarthy wasn’t happy with the outcomes, he would experiment. “We were the guinea pigs for sir. In the 50 m three positions event, we weren’t able to understand how we should balance for the kneeling position. So sir would have each of us try different things and he figured out what worked best,” says Bhagwat.

While Bhagwat appears to be like again fondly now, she does not deny that these early days have been stuffed with toil and little reward. “Those days were hard. We were starting almost from zero. We couldn’t even dream of winning internationally then,” she says. If she and the remainder of that early group continued, it was as a result of of Chakravarthy. “It was as if we were all on this journey together and the thread that bound us all together was Sanjay sir,” says Shirur.”There wasn’t any immediate reward. But we persisted because we believed in Sanjay sir and he believed in us,” says Shirur.

Shirur remembers a time when, after finishing a minor competitors in India, she seemed to seek out Chakravarthy within the spectator gallery. He wasn’t within the shooting corridor and Shirur finally discovered him within the outdoors the venue puffing a cigarette. “I was full of self-doubt at this point and he simply said, ‘Tu international khelegi (you will compete internationally).’ That was enough motivation to continue,” she says.

This was true for Bhagwat as effectively. In 1995, annoyed with the dearth of assist and success, she had deliberate to surrender shooting professionally and solely shoot as a pastime. “I went and told Sanjay sir about my decision. But he finally convinced me to change my mind. He told me how he visualised me becoming the best in the world, carrying an Indian flag in the biggest stage of all,” says Bhagwat.

Progress did come, although. “The sport grew with us. We were the first set of shooters in India to shoot 360 out of 400. Then we moved up to 370, 385, 387 and finally 400 out of 400,” says Shirur, who finally set the world document herself.

Those Chakravarthy coached admit that regardless of his restricted expertise, he ready them for an even bigger stage. “Maybe technically Sanjay sir didn’t have the most knowledge. But he made our foundation so strong that it helped the foreign coaches like Laszlo (Szucsak) and Stanislav (Lapidus) when they first came to India. He didn’t just impart technical education. He actually moulded us into what an athlete was supposed to be. He inculcated in us a discipline of sporting culture that we lacked,” says Bhagwat.

Even as Indian shooting improved, Chakravarthy by no means tried to latch on to his trainees’ success. “He by no means even charged a payment for his teaching. He by no means needed a place or something. He did not even need medals. There are coaches who turn out to be very possessive about their athletes however Sanjay sir was joyful once we began coaching beneath international coaches. He and I might have have lengthy conversations about what strategies had they launched.

“For most, the natural progression would be to go to the Olympics, but his priorities were different. He was someone who was passionate about shooting and saw his mission simply as sharing as much knowledge as he could,” says Bhagwat.

Chakravarthy’s full lack of private ambition meant that it was solely in 2017 that he was awarded the Dronacharya Award. “He didn’t even apply for a state award. It was only after his 75th birthday that all of his trainees – me, Suma, Deepali and Gagan – decided he had to get the Dronacharya award. We applied on his behalf because he wouldn’t even have done that himself,” says Bhagwat. There was no scarcity of purposes made on his behalf. “He was a tree with so many branches. Today his presence is felt by shooters across the country. It was the least we could do. He was the real Dronacharya behind all of us,” says Shirur.

Over the previous few years of his life, as he suffered from most cancers, Chakravarthy grew more and more weaker however his ardour for the game by no means waned. “When I met him a while ago, he had become physically frail but his eyes lit up when he discussed shooting. His mind was as sharp as ever when he was talking about technique and training. He told me that once he recovered, there were so many places across the country where he had been asked to hold shooting camps. That was what really motivated him,” says Shirur.

While Chakravarthy was motivated by rising the game, he was additionally fearful about whether or not what he had constructed up would persist. “He was worried that everything would stop with him. He was so happy that I was part of the coaching scene. He’d always tell me, ‘Aap ko aur shooters banana hai (You have to develop more shooters).’ That is the legacy he wanted to leave behind,” says Shirur.

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