Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Swapnil Kusale faces an arduous task of traversing three cities to begin his shooting training. His ammunition is tucked at a friend’s place in the national capital here, his new Walther rifle and kit is with another friend in Pune and the nearest range where he can practice with ammunition for rifle three positions (3P) is in Kolhapur, 50 km away from his village Kambalwadi.
Kusale is stranded in his village since March 23 when he came to visit his brother — a kabaddi player, who was undergoing a knee surgery. The 24-year-old’s anxiety to return to training has grown in the last few days after he got into contention for a Tokyo Olympics berth in 3P. He has surged ahead of quota winner Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar in the country’s Olympic selection score based on international competitions and trials. India has earned two quota places in men’s 3P rifle through Tomar and seasoned Sanjeev Rajput, who occupies the top spot in the event.
While the final call on quota distribution rests with the selectors, Kusale is the only shooter to pip a quota winner as per the policy. “I am not even able to do dry training at home because I do not have my weapon. I am just keeping myself fit with some physical exercise,” he says.
Kusale last shot in the special trials at Delhi’s Karni Singh Range on March 18. The trials were held following the cancellation of the ISSF World Cup to allow shooters finish the Olympic selection process. He did well with scores of 1177 and 1169.
“I did not carry the ammunition because our national camp and competitions happen in Delhi. I came to Pune where I stay and kept my weapon there. Shortly after my visit to my brother in the village, the lockdown was announced,” he says.
Since then, Kusale has not touched his weapon. His only way is to get a pass to reach Pune — a four- hour trip by car — collect his rifle and start dry training. He is also frantically searching for space in his village to prepare a makeshift range but that is easier said than done. Unlike air weapon shooters, who still find a way to train at home or nearby ranges, 3P shooting demands more space (50m) and .22 calibre ammunition, which makes it a difficult proposition to train outside of a shooting range.
“I have to train at a safe place and I am searching for one in my village,” says Kusale.
Kusale is not the only one in such predicament. Tomar too faces a similar challenge. Since the lockdown, Tomar, 19, is also stuck in his village in Ratanpur, Khargone district, Madhya Pradesh. His weapon and ammunition are at his training base in the MP State Academy centre in Bhopal, a seven- hour drive from his village. The state is so badly hit by the pandemic that venturing out means putting one’s life in extreme risk.
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“Many areas in Bhopal are in red zone. Though the academy is safe, my family will be worried if I go to the city now,” says Tomar, who won bronze at the Asian Championships to earn an Olympic quota. “It has been the longest I have been at home in recent times and without any training.”
The national coaches have asked the federation (National Rifle Association of India) to import ‘lift targets’ that can be fixed at shorter distances of 15 metres and the target position can be adjusted for all three positions (standing, kneeling and prone in 3P).
“These targets are used by European shooters to train indoors in smaller spaces during snowfall,” says the high-performance coach of the Indian rifle team, Deepali Deshpande.
“If we again go into a lockdown, these targets can be set up in any hall, or some indoor space and shooter can train inside. The target machine is designed for 3P training and is used in Europe where it snows for 5-6 months and shooters cannot train outdoors. A shooter can use live (cartridges) on these targets; it has a bullet catcher.”
Both Kusale and Tomar are desperately waiting for the lockdown to end. Kusale will explore the range in Kolhapur and train there along with two Tokyo Olympics quota winners — Rahi Sarnobat (25m pistol) and Tejaswini Sawant (3P).
Suma Shirur, one of India’s top 3P shooters and now a high-performance coach with the Indian junior team, trained with the ‘lift targets’ at a nearby shop before the 2004 Olympics. Shirur, who is also a consultant with the MP Shooting Academy, is trying to arrange a travel pass for Tomar to visit Bhopal.
“It is always a challenge for 50m shooters to train. The Megalink, target which is made in Norway, is extremely good for technical training. Some of the world’s best shooters, such as Niccolò Campriani (four-time Olympic medallist), have trained with it. The need of the hour is to innovate.” she says.
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