From Olympic disappointment to inspiring younger generations: How Joydeep Karmakar's journey came a full circle
Not many will remember the name of shooter Joydeep Karmakar. After all, no one remembers someone who came agonisingly close to winning an Olympic medal, but ended up finishing fourth. Perhaps, even he knew what he had missed out in London in 2012.
He himself had opened up about the disappointment of not winning a medal at the Olympics in a book titled ‘My Olympic Journey’, where he revealed, “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.”
However, now, six years after the London Olympics, Karmakar has gotten over those fickle disappointments. Now, he is more concerned about how his students perform rather than what could have been. It's not like there was nothing that he brought back from London. In fact, it was in London, in 2012, where the idea of doing something for the future generations first came to him.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the former shooter revealed how a simple question had stumped him during a Q&A session in London.
"During the London Olympics, back in 2012, me, Dola Banerjee and Rahul Banerjee, were invited to a Q&A session in Harrow Hall, which was organised by the Bengali Community in London. The audience was a mix of NRIs and British citizens. When I was giving a speech, one lady interrupted me to ask a question," Karmakar recalled.
He continued, "The manner in which the question was made was a little aggressive, and it was a little awkward as well. The organisers, thinking that it was an insult to me, stopped her in the middle of her question but I requested them to let her speak. What she asked was something that really made me think: 'You all are selfish athletes. You perform well here and there, earn some money and then you pack up and move on. What do you do for the future generations?'
"I didn't have any answer. Because I have actually seen the biggest of big athletes in India who have not given back. I am not going to take any names, but there are many. From cricketing icons to many other popular figures in sports - there may have been some who have gotten into administration, but not many have taken up the job of developing and nurturing young talent at the grass root level."
Not being able to give an answer was something that would haunt Karmakar for days to come. It was something that had a huge impact on him, it made him look back and reflect on what he wanted to do after his professional career was over.
"Since I did not have an answer to the question, I had to apologise in front of everybody. I admitted that yes, I have not done anything yet, but I promised that I would give it a thought.
"Later on, the question haunted me like anything. Obviously, I was a little occupied because I was still looking to compete at the highest level...I was preparing for the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2014 Asian Games...but it was always somewhere at the back of my mind. Whether it was to set up an academy or to provide something to the young shooter that we missed during our growing years, I had to do something," he said.
But then it was just a thought inside his head. To actually do something about it and to do it in the proper way, that's where Karmakar's credit lies. From setting up a small academy to transforming it into a state of the art shooting range, it was a journey filled with obstacles and difficulties. But the 2010 ISSF World Cup silver medallist was determined.
"I set up a small academy in Dankuni at first, but the response was not very encouraging. Not many people came. It was not like the sport is very expensive, especially, the event that these shooters take part in but maybe because of the conditions of the academy, not many people turned up.
"Of course, the financial crunch was a big problem for us when we started out. It was basically a cowshed. From putting straws on the roof to prevent water from trickling in, to buying the bulbs, we had to do it all ourselves. Our chief coach, Bibaswan Ganguly and I, we had to invest our own money to set it up.
"Then, we moved to a site, which was basically a godown (warehouse), that was left unused by SAI. We cleaned the area, bought every equipment using money from our own pockets. At first, we bought only 10 rifles and the electronic targets. There was no aid from the government or anywhere for that matter," he opened up on the issues he faced when he first opened the academy.
But that's not where the troubles ended. Even after putting in all the hard work and money, Karmakar and his team had to face further grievances, this time in the form of the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
"After all this, the SAI director started asking us for money when there were no contracts stipulating anything. He became greedy and wanted to pocket money illegally, but I refused. As a result, he locked up the shooting range to prevent us from entering. It was just one and a half weeks before the Nationals, and a lot of important stuff was inside.
"My own jacket, which I had worn at the Olympics, was inside. Even Mehuli Ghosh, who was supposed to take part in the Nationals, had to suffer because her kit was also locked inside for nearly 4-5 days and she could not practise," the 37-year-old shooter-turned-coach revealed.
"SAI, the government of India, they are always saying that they are doing so much for sports in India. But there I was, trying to build something with my own money...and I had to face my biggest obstacle in the form of SAI. Nonetheless, we decided to go about our job silently," he said.
However, things were about to become better. The students of the Joydeep Karmakar Shooting Academy went on to perform exceedingly well at the National Championships in 2016.
Mehuli Ghosh, in particular, stole all the limelight, winning a whopping record nine medals. Moreover, the New Town School offered a proper shooting centre to Karmakar where he could set up a state of art academy.
"Soon, the situation became better, thanks to New Town School. They offered us a centre after we were thrown out of SAI. We were able to start afresh and the young shooters got a better range to practice," he said.
Evidently, the youngsters benefitted from that and the results reflected at the 2017 National Championships where Mehuli bagged eight medals. Furthermore, 23 other shooters from the academy got selected for the national camp.
On being asked whether he is trying to achieve his dreams through his students, Karmakar dismissed the idea completely. For him, it is more about inculcating a culture among the young athletes, where everyone will be striving for excellence and perfection, not for glory.
"I don't want to say that I'm trying to live my dream of winning an Olympic medal through my students. I think that's very cliched. But I think the students, themselves, are motivated by seeing what we have done, what we have sacrificed to build something. They can see that none of the coaches, none of the mentors, sit for even one minute at the academy. In fact, we have no chairs at the academy.
"All of us, we devote all the time to train the young shooters at the academy. The students know that there is no room for slacking off, even for a little while, they will be ashamed of even thinking of it. That is the kind of discipline I have tried to imbibe in them," he signed off.