“Each and every one of them can finish on the podium, and I have seen a bit of Indian shooting over the years. On their day they can win medals at the highest level. Even gold,” Smirnov said.
It’s not about one, two or three but all his shooters are capable of winning a medal, including gold, at the Tokyo Olympics, reckons Pavel Smirnov, the longstanding foreign coach of the Indian pistol team.
On the back of their unprecedented success in recent years, the Indians will enter the upcoming Olympics with heightened expectations, especially the incredibly talented bunch of young pistol shooters such as Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker.
Not to be left behind is the duo of Abhishek Verma and Yashaswini Singh Deswal, with the seasoned Rahi Sarnobat adding to the team’s strength.
“Each and every one of them can finish on the podium, and I have seen a bit of Indian shooting over the years. On their day they can win medals at the highest level. Even gold,” Smirnov told PTI from Zagreb.
A vaunted Indian team fired a blank at the 2016 Rio Games, a shocking result that forced radical changes in the Indian shooting setup on the recommendation of a review committee led by Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra.
Smirnov, who coached Vijay Kumar to a 25m rapid fire pistol silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics, following which he was appointed as the national pistol team’s foreign coach, saw the likes of fancied Jitu Rai failing to deliver in Rio five years ago.
He says it’s time to look ahead to the upcoming edition of the Games.
“I am very hopeful with this team. They deserve to do well because they have all made sacrifices, some at a very young age, shown maturity and worked very hard over the last four years. There is no reason for us not to have a very good Games,” Smirnov said.
The disappointment of Rio 2016 doesn’t rankle anymore.
“There is no benefit in dwelling on the past. That is not in our control. What is in our control is what we can do in the future and we are thinking like that at the moment.” Unlike in the previous Games, the number of coaching staff has been reduced for the upcoming Olympics because of the pandemic.
Along with the rifle foreign coach Oleg Mikhailov, Smirnov will however be with the team throughout the Games with the others being rotated as per the maximum 30% coaching staff rule of the International Olympic Committee for the Games.
“Rules are rules. Everyone needs to follow. The federation will implement them accordingly and in the best interests of the team I am sure,” Smirnov, who was with the Army prior to joining the Indian team, said.
Smirnov could not accompany the national shooting squad to Zagreb on May 11 due to delay in visa processing. However, that had been sorted and he is now back to training his wards in the Croatian capital.
“Well I am here now and enjoying being back with the team. Had a calm quarantine but definitely feels nice to be back in the range, in the thick of things. Things are very good and we are being taken care of very well.” The coach has been with the Indian team since 2013 and asked about his future plans (continuation), he said he is currently focussed only on the Olympics.
“Now that is thinking too far ahead. At the moment, I am only thinking about the Olympics,” he signed off.
The Tokyo Olympics are slated to be held from July 23 to August 8 and the Indian shooting team will be a represented by a record 15 members there.