Olympians are not born overnight, and it takes years of practice to reach the pinnacle of success. Perhaps that is why the role of a coach in shaping their path to success cannot be underestimated.
When 22-year-old Divyansh Singh Panwar sets foot in Tokyo to compete against the world's best shooters, he will remember the years of hard toil that went into making him an Olympian and the man behind it.
From dedicated training regimens to perfecting his sport-specific skills and regular practice, coach Deepak Dubey has been 'a home away from home' for Panwar. The world no. 1 shooter bagged India's fourth quota for the Tokyo Olympics by clinching silver in the men's 10m Air Rifle event at the 2019 Beijing World Cup.
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Dubey is regarded as the visionary behind Panwar's success, helping the latter improve his technique as well as staying calm under pressure. He is aware that he is training a sportsman of international calibre and potentially a medal hope for India at the Tokyo Olympics.
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Divyansh Panwar's coach Deepak Dubey on his ward's preparations ahead of Tokyo Olympics
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Dubey spoke about Panwar's Croatia training tour, last-minute preparations for the Tokyo Olympics, and much more.
Here are the excerpts:
Q: There was much uncertainty over the European training stint, following major travel restrictions. It was also believed the team would have to undergo limited training in Delhi if the Croatian tour did not happen as planned. Were you, as a coach, ready for it? Did you have a backup plan?
A: The Croatia tour was finalised at the last moment. We ourselves did not know if it would work out at all. We could reach Croatia only via Doha. There were also other constraints due to delays in visa processing. The federation was also considering arranging a chartered flight for the team so that we could reach Croatia directly.
As a coach, I think it would have been very tough for our 25m and 50m distance shooters to train in Delhi. The temperature is way too high there. But it was not much of a concern for our 10m shooters. There's a bit of a mental aspect to it, too.
Here in Croatia, we are feeling very safe and relaxed. All we do everyday is go to the range, train, come back and repeat the routine. I'm sure staying in Delhi and losing so many of our loved ones around every day would have had a mental effect on the shooters.
There was no Plan B. We would have continued to train in Delhi; what else could we have done? The team is at its best now; we have around 6-7 shooters who are placed in the world's top four. This (Croatia tour) was a very calculated move by both the federation and the Indian government.
Q: It is said that the immense support from the Croatian Shooting Federation made this tour possible. How has their hospitality been?
A: They have indeed been very helpful. One of their shooters, Petar Gorsa, had tested positive during the Delhi World Cup. Although he was not allowed to compete in the event, he received hospitable treatment at the hands of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president Raninder Singh. Gorsa was very pleased with that kind gesture.
When the time came for him to return the favour, he did so by ensuring we could train in Croatia. At a time when every country barred Indians from travelling, Croatia came out of its way and allowed us a 80-day training stint before the Tokyo Olympics. That was a big boost to our morale, and we knew we had to make the most of it. We did not want to let them down.
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Q: The team is slowly adapting to new ways of training and competition. Could you help us gain a deeper insight into what a daily schedule looks like for the shooters in Croatia?
A: The day starts early. We usually get ready by 7:30 in the morning. After leaving the hotel premises by 8, we reach the range by 8:36 AM. We don't start training right away. A little warmup is necessary. The practice begins at 9 AM everyday. It continues for two hours, after which we rest for about ten minutes.
The second phase of shooting practice starts after that and ends at 1 PM. Then, we have our lunch. We take a little rest and go back to training. After all is done, we head back to the hotel. We practice yoga in the evening, have dinner and got to sleep.
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Q: The significance of the Croatian training stint cannot be overlooked; it is proving beneficial for the team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. What do you think, as a coach, are the key differences between training in India and Europe at a time when the Tokyo Olympics are only two months away?
A: We got a chance to compete against the best European shooters in the event (recently-concluded European Championships). We gained a deep insight into their technique, skills, training methods and of course got a chance to compete against them. We will play against the same shooters at the Tokyo Olympics. This tour has helped us evaluate ourselves against them; now we know where we stand in terms of technique.
Another significant factor is that we get our equipment repaired here with so much ease. That is not the case in India. You probably have to be out of your bio-bubble zone to get your gun repaired. But here, everybody is in a bio-bubble area. Everything is in place, and everyone in the range are COVID-19 tested. At least, we know that we are in a safe and healthy environment.
Besides that, all equipment in the local ranges is manufactured by a Swiss company. We will use the same equipment and machines with a similar setup at the Tokyo Olympics. This is helping us prepare mentally, too. There will be no change as such when we head to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.
Q: The Tokyo Olympics are now only two months away. You know you cannot put a foot wrong, as a minor fault could bring about the biggest damage. Can you give us a brief insight into what strategies you have been implementing to ensure Divyansh remains at his best at the Tokyo Olympics?
A: The most important strategy for any shooter before the Tokyo Olympics is mental fortitude. I am trying my best to keep him positive. He is young and naturally misses his family a lot. Nobody in the team can be your friend (smiles); you are in competition with everyone in the team.
To help him ease his mind, I make him listen to the Gayatri Mantra everyday. By focusing on the mantra, we help stimulate our brain to be focused. This level of concentration helps in keeping the mind calm and positive during pressure-matches.
It's good that he is over PUBG and online gaming. Occasionally, I would check on him if he is still playing PUBG or using his phone too much. Things are under much control now. I don't like putting a lot of pressure on anybody. I'm never hard on him; we are mostly cracking jokes like kids.
Q: The lockdown last year cast a shadow over the Olympic preparations for several shooters. You came out of your way and did the unthinkable. When did the idea of turning your flat into a small shooting range cross your mind?
A: (Laughs) Actually, it was a major setback for all of us. The range was shut due to the pandemic, and we did not know when it would reopen. Divyansh, I and two others could not go home on time. So we started to plan something on the lines of building a range in my own flat for some time.
We went to the range early in the morning and got the machine. I have a 3BHK flat, and luckily my two rooms are adjacent to each other. There was also a cupboard right in the corner. When we installed the machine on the cupboard, it was an accurate 10m distance.
But I admit it was tough to practice like that. We made it happen, but there were a few shortcomings too. We continued training that way for about 45 days. Occasionally, we would also watch a few episodes of Mahabharata and Ramayana to take a break from the training routine.
Q: There is a lot of uncertainty regarding the staging of the Tokyo Olympics. How do you help Divyansh deal with this difficult period so that his preparations are not affected?
A: These are things that go beyond our control. We have to keep safe and healthy, and we can’t compromise on that. I tell Divyansh not to let his focus wither away. The focus is very important; you have to keep training for all that’s there.
If we look closely, events are happening, with all the safety protocols in place. Vaccinations are also being done; so let us hope we are able to compete in a safe and secure environment at the Tokyo Olympics. We are going to get good news very soon; the Tokyo Olympics will be our best performance!