PETALING JAYA: Shooter Irina Maharani, who took silver in the Manchester Commonwealth Games last year, has turned to coaching.
The National Sports Council's (NSC) director of international preparations, Ahmad Shapawi, said that Irina would no longer feature in the national squad as a shooter and her contract had been changed to that of a coach.
The NSC had already notified the former Russian World Cup sport pistol champion of the change in her status.
Irina will either be a junior development coach or a coach for the national back-up squad for the 2006 Asian Games, said Ahmad.
Irina will thus become the third shooting coach to come under the NSC payroll. The others are Belarussians Viktar Prykhodzka (pistol) and Saidau Isrial (rifle).
On whether Irina could still represent the country for assignments like the Vietnam SEA Games, the National Shooting Association of Malaysia's (NSAM) executive secretary, Jasni Shaari, said that Irina was still eligible if she beat the qualifying mark.
She can still compete in local competitions but she has to pay her own expenses. If she beat the SEA Games qualifying mark, she can go to Vietnam in December but she has to pay her own way because she is no longer an athlete under the NSC banner, said Jasni.
The 41-year-old Russian became a naturalised Malaysian in 1998. However, her hopes of representing Malaysia in the 1998 Commonwealth Games held here was scuppered at the last minute after the International Sports Shooting Federation (ISSF) said that she did not fulfil the rules on citizenship.
Undeterred, she continued training and was given the green light by the ISSF to represent the country a year later.
Irina was the only Malaysian shooter to qualify for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Irina was thrown out of the Gemilang 2001 squad for disciplinary reasons the following year. However, she found her way back into the national squad and duly delivered three gold medals in the 2001 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.
Her last international assignment was in the Manchester Commonwealth Games last year where she combined with Bibiana Ng Pei Chin to win the silver in the women's 25m pistol pairs event. It was the only medal won by Malaysia in the pistol event in Bisley.
Malaysia also won another silver and two more bronze medals but these came from the rifle shooters.
Meanwhile, Jasni said that 18 shooters under the 2006 Asian Games programme had already started centralised training.
Besides the Vietnam SEA Games, the shooters other main assignments this year are the Asian Championships, which will be hosted by Malaysia in August.