Two days ago, when 17-year-old Manu Bhaker suffered a pistol malfunction during the 25m Rapid Fire pistol final at the ISSF World Cup in Munich, the Haryana shooter was in joint lead with team-mate Rahi Sarnobat and Olena Kosteyvch of Ukraine after the sixth series. Bhaker would cry for a while with coaches Simon Pavel and Samresh Jung watching followed by a consolation hug from Sarnobat, who claimed the gold medal and the Olympic quota.
On Wednesday, as Bhaker earned the Olympic quota for India in the 10m Air Pistol event with a fourth-place finish in the final, the youngster sat with coach Jaspal Rana and the two seemed in a relaxed mood. Even though Bhaker had missed the bronze medal by 0.1 point with eventual gold medallist Anna Korakaki of Greece edging her out of the medal round, she was sharing a laugh with Rana and seemed happy about earning India’s seventh Olympic quota place.
“Yes, I was disappointed about what happened on Monday. One part of my pistol broke and that was the reason it malfunctioned. It happened at a time when I was leading and as a shooter, you feel dejected mentally also. But I knew also that such things are not in my control. I wanted to compete with full intensity and not worry about the result. I just wanted to give my best,” Bhaker told The Indian Express from Germany.
“Maybe that was one reason I shot a score of 582 in the qualification and it helped my rhythm in the final. Before the last shot also, I shot without knowing what I needed for the medal and was happy with the last shot. It feels good to earn the Olympic quota.”
Post the 10m air pistol gold medal at the ISSF World Cup in Mexico last year, Bhaker had failed to qualify for the final in any of the ISSF World Cups in that event. The youngster had won the gold medal at the Asian Shooting Championships last year. Last year, Bhaker finished 30th at the Changwon World Cup before winning the gold at the Commonwealth Games.
It was followed by a 47th-place finish at the ISSF World Cup in Munich and her best finish at the world level would come at the ISSF world Championships in Changwon, Korea last year, where she finished 13th.
This year, Bhaker shot a qualification score of 573 in ISSF World Cup, Delhi to finish 14th before a 17th-place finish at last month’s ISSF World Cup in Beijing.
Bhaker’s qualification score of 582 on Wednesday saw her qualifying in third spot behind Kostevych and Julieta Jiminez of Uruguay. With Korakaki, Kim Minjung of Korea and Kostevych having earned the quota already, it was a fight for two Olympic spots among five shooters, including China’s Wei Qian.
Bhaker’s first shot of 9.2 was followed by shots of 10.8, 10.6 and 10.6 before the fifth shot of 9.2 put her in third spot. Bhaker would finish the second series in fourth spot before sharing third spot with Qian after the fourth elimination stage.
With Korakaki shooting scores of 9.7 and 9.9 in the bronze medal elimination round, Bhaker shot 9.9 before a 10.3, which was not enough for her to go further. With Kostevych finishing fifth and Korakaki and Kim in the top three, Bhaker earned the second of the Olympic quota spots on offer after Qian, who finished second. Bhaker also ensured that there will be mixed Indian team in 10m air pistol in Tokyo with Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma earning the quota places in the corresponding men’s event.
“It was great shooting by Manu after what happened on Monday. She forgot everything and kept her cool. And she understood that it was not her fault. We got the pistol repaired today and when she competes again in 25m competitions, she will forget what happened here. Getting the quota place does make you feel lighter,” Rana said.
“Korakaki is the Rio Olympics gold medallist in 25m and the bronze medallist in 10m and to lose the medal by just 0.1 point against a shooter like her is not something to feel bad about. If we see it in a positive way, then Monday’s setback was a blessing in disguise. If she would have got the quota then, she wouldn’t have been eligible for the quota today. Now Rahi has got the quota in 25m and Manu has done it in 10m . Manu has to work on her timing, which keeps going up and down and we need to also focus on her trigger speed.”
At the Bhaker home at Goria village in Jhajjar district, Manu’s father Ramkishan was also following Wednesday’s final.
He had got Manu two 25m pistols in the last two years and rates them as Manu’s most coveted possessions. “She was disappointed after what happened in the 25m rapid fire pistol event. She had cried and it made us worry also. But then she told us ‘Papa, aap chinta na karna. Chinta karna mera kaam hai.’ She had got two Pardini 25m pistols, one which we got her in 2017 and the other in 2018. She is very possessive about them and seeing the pistol malfunction must have been a setback for her. Earlier this year, her maternal cousin, who is in the Indian Army, had come to visit us and was competing in a tournament. He had forgotten his own weapon and asked Manu for one of her pistols. Her maternal uncle too called Manu but she refused to give her pistol. She loves her brother and cousins a lot but shooting is above all of them,” said her father.
He said Manu had been struggling with pain in her heel and ankle for the last one year and it had prompted her to use insoles with shooting shoes. “It has been caused by the shoes and she gets pain when she shoots for 2-3 hours during practice. She has been working with the physios to control the pain and using insoles. Now that she has secured the quota, she will take some time before trials and other competitions and find a remedy for the pain,” he added.