When Manu Bhaker asked her father to get her a pistol, one month after talking up the sport, Ram Kishan Bhaker, a chief engineer in the Merchant Navy, wondered if the investment of Rs 1.5 lakh would be really worth it. Manu had won medals in boxing, skating, thang ta — a Manipuri martial art — and tennis at the national and international level before deciding to pursue shooting as a 14-year-old. On Sunday, she showed she had made the right decision by taking up shooting.
Bhaker, all of 16 and making her ISSF World Cup debut, was competing against experienced shooters, those who have won medals at this level of competition in the 10 metre air pistol.
She was up against Mexico’s Alejandra Zavala, the local shooter who is a two-time medallist and France’s Celine Goberville, who has three medals at World Cups. Greece’s Rio Olympics gold medallist in the 10 metre pistol, Anna Korakaki, was also in the final. But with a 10.8, the second- highest possible score, in the final shot for a total of 237.5, the teenager from Goria village near Jhajjar pipped Zavala (237.1) and Goberville (217) to win gold — India’s fourth medal at this World Cup.
Another Indian, Yashaswini Singh Deswal, missed out on a medal, finishing fourth with 196.1.
What makes her performance impressive is that two years ago she had not even taken up pistol shooting. “On April 28, it will be two years since I took up shooting,” Manu says.
What helped calm her nerves in the final was perhaps the fact that Manu didn’t realise the quality of the field she was up against.
“I was trailing by 1.4 points before the last shot and was concentrating on my shot. I did not know before the finals that Zavala had won the World Cup gold on two occasions and Anna had won the bronze in this event and also the gold medal in 10 metre in Rio,” Manu says.
Habit of breaking records
In the qualification round Manu was so good that she broke the junior world record. This was not the first time she was rewriting a record.
Last year, during the Nationals in Kerala, she shocked multiple World Cup medallist Heena Sidhu, breaking her record of 240.8 with 242.3 in the final. She also won a silver medal at the 2017 Asian Junior Championships.
“The World Cup gold medal is the best souvenir she has got for me,” her father says. “I have opted for so many games in my brief career but my parents have always supported me,” Manu says.
The family hopes that the World Cup medal will help attract sponsors and make it financially viable for Manu to continue pursuing the sport.
She has been at the national camp for over six months, but before that trained at the village school which has a manual range.
Two years ago, when she took up shooting after being cajoled by coach Naresh, she showed immediate promise as her first shot was a 10. Sunday’s gold was another testament to her talent.
National pistol coach Jaspal Rana has groomed young shooters, including Manu and Deswal over the last one year. He rated Sunday’s performance highly.
“It’s an important win for Manu. Even Yashaswini was in contention for the medal and I am happy for the shooters. Manu is mentally very strong. I remember that when she joined the national camp, her mother told me that she talks a lot. She is always asking questions about the sport. But I am happy to answer them. She is not in the TOPS scheme but we need to groom talented shooters like her for the 2020 Olympics,” Rana says.