Shooters look forward to training after 'longest break' as NRAI announces camp

File photo: India's Sanjeev Rajput in action at the men's 50m rifle 3 positions event during the 2018 Asian Games MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) on Tuesday decided to call a national training camp next month for a core group of shooters preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. The decision for the camp, which will be held in New Delhi's Karni Singh Shooting Range, was taken during the NRAI general body meeting on Tuesday.

"We will be conducting a camp in the first week of August. The 34 shooters who have been named in the training core group for the Tokyo Olympics will be called. Foreign coaches Pavel Smirnov and Oleg Mikhailov will also be part of the camp since they haven't left India," said an NRAI official. "Attendance has been made compulsory," the official added.

"I'm really looking forward to taking part in the camp," says Sanjeev Rajput, who is one of the 34 shooters named in the core group. Rajput, 39, had won an Olympic quota in the 50m rifle 3 positions event.

"In the 10m events, you can set up a range at your home if you have to. Nearly all shooters in these events have done so. We also had online competitions in these. But the shooters in the other events have had no practice since the lockdown. The last time I shot my 50m rifle was on 18th March during the selection trials competition in New Delhi," says Rajput, a two-time Olympian.

Just 15 days ago, Rajput, who stays in Delhi, had moved back to his home in Yamuna Nagar, Haryana, because he felt there was no point staying in the capital because he was unable to train for nearly four months due to the restrictions during the Covid-19 lockdown.

"I started shooting this event in 2002. This has been the longest break that I've had," he says.

Rajput thinks it will take time for him to regain his touch after a long break. "I think it will take at least two to three weeks to get the feel of the gun back," he says.

This is also why the camp is being conducted for a longer duration. "The normal duration of a camp is of 15 days. But because this is the first camp in a long time, we are keeping it for 20 days this time around. After that we will give the players a break and then conduct further camps," says an NRAI official.

While Rajput would have wanted the camp to have been conducted earlier, NRAI officials say that was not possible. "There had been permission granted by SAI many days back but we wanted to first make sure that there were no issues in transport and safety of the athletes. We now feel that there are fewer restrictions in the movements of athletes so we feel more confident in conducting the camp," the official said.

There will still be plenty of precautions put into place. "We won't be placing the shooters in quarantine but we will have a COVID test conducted on the shooters before they join the camp. We will also enforce distancing measures in the camp itself. Shooting timings will be regulated and the range will be sanitised regularly," the official said.

The restrictions will be many but shooters like Rajput are grateful. "I've gone nearly four months since I've fired my rifle. It's a strange feeling. I'm really looking forward to taking part in the camp," he says.