It was in the late 1990s that Sunny Thomas, India's celebrated shooting coach and Dronacharya awardee, predicted that only India could break China's dominance in shooting. It did happen in the mid-2000s as India asserted their supremacy over their neighbours and changed the sporting landscape over a medal-laden decade. For that prophecy and farsightedness, the country honoured him with the Dronacharya Award in 2001, the highest sporting honour bestowed upon coaches in India.
Sunny Thomas, one of the key men in the country’s success in shooting, will turn 80 on Sunday. Born on September 26, 1941, at Thidanad in Kottayam district to Mekkattu K K Thomas and Mariyakutty, he was a professor of English language at St. Stephen’s College, Uzhavoor, before starting his career as a full-time coach.
Sunny Thomas was the silent force behind Major Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore when the latter created history by becoming India's first-ever individual silver medallist at the Olympics in 2004. Abhinav Bindra’s gold medal performance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the country's first individual gold at the quadrennial event, was the most glorious chapter of his reign as the national coach. Two more shooters nurtured by him have also won Olympic medals; Vijay Kumar (silver) and Gagan Narang (bronze), both coming at the 2012 London Games.
During his tenure, India won 29 medals at the Asian Games and 95 medals at the Commonwealth Games. His wards also clinched around 50 medals from World Shooting Championships.
Sunny Thomas, who learned the nuances of the sport from the Kottayam Rifle Club where he joined in 1965, was a successful shooter in his heyday as he won five medals, that included two gold medals, at the state championships. In 1976, he became the national champion in the Rifle 3 Position open sight event held in Chennai. He took up coaching after retiring from his teaching job in 1993.
His wife, Prof. K J Josamma, was the head of the Botany Department at St. Stephen’s College, Uzhavoor. The couple has three children, former state-level shooting champions Manoj Sunny and Sanil Sunny, and daughter Sonia Sunny.