New Delhi: Rifle shooter Joydeep Karmakar has experienced the pain of narrowly missing out on an Olympic medal and ahead of the Summer Games in Rio, he has penned down the hurdles created by coaches and officials in the run-up to the London Games.
In a book titled 'My Olympic Journey', Karmakar recalls how he felt after reaching the final of the Men's 50m Rifle Prone before finishing a painful fourth. "In London, my friend Vijay Kumar was on the podium. He had shot a sensational final to win India's second medal of the Games and the second silver medal for Indian shooting after Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in 2004. Seeing Vijay on that podium, something inside me snapped. I started crying like a baby. At that moment, I realized what I had missed," recalls Karmakar in a book co-authored by journalists Digvijay Singh Deo and Amit Bose.
Karmakar reveals that he initially just wanted to compete in the Olympics and it was only after seeing fellow shooters on the podium, he yearned for a medal. He claims he had a tough time in the lead up to the Olympics, thanks to Indian team's coaches Sunny Thomas and Stanislas Lapidus.
"Efforts were made to break me. I had to fight for my lawful place in the Indian shooting team for the 2012 Asian Championship in Doha, the last event before the selection committee for the Olympics met. I had not made the cut to represent the team in the actual competition in Doha, but had earned my right to shoot the minimum qualifying score (MQS), which is in accordance with shooting rules. For some reason, I wasn¿t part of that either, and I really had to fight and make representations to the NRAI to ensure the policy was followed," he writes.
"The trouble did not end there. When I reached Doha, the then national coach, Sunny Thomas, kicked me out of the team hotel, saying it was only for the national team and not for those shooting MQS. I was still an official MQS entry from India. Somehow, alternative arrangements were made thanks to Manisha Malhotra of the Mittal Champions Trust.
"I had made it to the Olympic team, but support for me was missing on the ground. Harsh treatment was meted out to my fellow shooter Sanjeev Rajput and me. We felt like have-nots even though the sports ministry and the NRAI had backed the team to the hilt. The situation was getting more desperate with every passing day and it finally blew up in Munich during a World Cup." Karmarkar claims that the situation got bad to the extent that he almost walked out of the national camp.
"...perhaps to escape the suffocating atmosphere created by the national coach, Sunny Thomas, and foreign coach, Stanislas Lapidus, Rajput and I had applied for individual funding from the NSDF. It did not go down well when the two coaches found out. They felt we had challenged their authority. Sharp words were exchanged and personal
insinuations were made, hurting both Rajput and me. Late that night, we made up our minds to walk out of the national camp.
"The officials in the NRAI panicked when they learnt we were all set to walk out of the national camp and dispatched the secretary of the federation, Rajeev Bhatia, to broker peace. A closed-door meeting was held between the two coaches and us. We were adamant that we would train separately from the group because it was a limiting atmosphere. If I had trained under Lapidus, it would have been an absolute disaster."
However there were some positives too with India's sole individual Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra helping Karmakar out in the run up to the London Games. "I set off to Dortmund to train with one of the top coaches in world shooting, Heinz Reinkemeier. India's only individual Olympic champion, Abhinav Bindra, was a huge pillar of support at this time. Dortmund was his training base and Heinz and his wife, Gaby Bühlmann, had been part of Abhinav's team for a long time.
"Abhinav and I would have long chats about shooting and he would help me out with the psychological aspect of the sport as well. We had become friends at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006, ironically, after we had had a massive fight."
Eventually, Karmakar did well to reach the final but ended up short of a medal with an overall score of 699.1, behind Slovakia's Rajmond Debevec, who aggregated 701.
"My journey was almost complete. I was in an Olympic final after an incredible roller coaster ride. When the final began, I fought till the end, hoping for a medal but I finished fourth. However, I have no regrets. After my last shot, I banged the shooting mat with my fist and kissed my rifle. It was redemption for me after all that I had been
through to get here," concludes Karmakar.