When Manu Bhaker finished fifth after suffering a pistol malfunction in the 25m pistol event, not many expected her to launch a comeback in her following event. But that has been the story of the 17-year-old throughout the past year; defying expectations with some spectacular performances all around the world.
Making her struggles in the 10m Air Pistol event in international competitions a thing of the past, Bhaker shot an excellent 582 to qualify for the finals and then managed to finish fourth to seal an Olympic quota place for her country.
The weapon malfunction in the 25m Air Pistol event had left her visibly distraught, with Manu not being able to control her tears after elimination in the finals. After all, she had been leading the field up until that point in the competition. She had reached the finals of this event in New Delhi too, but the narrow misses at snatching a Tokyo 2020 quota place seemed to be catching up to her.
In a sport where calmness is a prized asset, emotions can often play a spoilsport.
The 10m Air Pistol event offered her an opportunity of redemption and the young girl from Haryana grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Among a highly competitive field of shooters, Manu had to fight off her nerves after a score of only 94 in the third series had left her in grave danger of elimination. But her scores of 98 each, in the final two series of the qualification round, ensured a qualification score of 582 and a third-place finish. This was by far her best score in an international event and that she managed to achieve it after all her struggles in the previous event made it even more special.
In her second final within a span of two days, Manu started off poorly with a score of 9.2 in her first shot. However, after a couple of 10.6 and a 10.8, she was in the fourth place at the end of the first competition stage and thus remained in contention for a medal. Facing stiff competition from the likes of Anna Korakaki, Kim Minjung, and Qian Wei, all of whom are in the top 5 world rankings at the moment, Manu missed out on a bronze medal by just 0.1. But unlike previous events, this time it was not all gloom for Manu as she had ensured the second quota place which was on offer.
The Tokyo 2020 quota for the 10m air pistol event was the seventh one for India in shooting, and with much more opportunities yet to arrive this number can certainly rise up to 15.
The wait for a medal was certainly not too long for Manu Bhaker as she paired up with Saurabh Chaudhary in the mixed team event to seal India’s 5th gold medal of the Munich World Cup. Since its introduction in World Cup competitions last year, the mixed team events have been a huge success for the Indian contingent given their depth of the squad.
The pair of Saurabh and Manu has been able to win gold in each of the past two World Cups this year, and the story was no different in Munich. They dominated the competition from the initial qualification stage, managing to lead their way into the final gold medal match against Ukraine with a stellar score of 591 in the second stage of the qualification rounds. In the gold medal match, the Indian pair lead their much experienced Ukrainian counterparts from the beginning to end and sealed their third gold medal together with a 17-9 victory.
The ability to fight setbacks is an intrinsic part of any athlete’s career. Manu’s meteoric rise to fame in a country where sports, with the exception of cricket, is struggling to gain a foothold had fixed a lot of expectations on her back.
Her medals at the Commonwealth Games and Youth Olympic Games made her, in many ways, the flag-bearer of the young and emerging shooting contingent of India. But her struggle to seal an Olympic quota in the past few months seemed to concern her a bit too much. With the Olympic quota now in her bag, Manu Bhaker and the Indian coaching staff can now surely breathe a huge sigh of relief. Given her current form, the young shooter will be able to participate in three events at the Olympics – 10m Air Pistol, 25m Pistol and the mixed team events.
Manu’s performance in Munich, which showed her extreme grit and determination amongst adversities, will certainly go a long way in helping her improve her career as an athlete. Medals in individual competitions at the upcomingISSF World Cups will certainly be a top priority for the young shooting prodigy, given that Tokyo Olympics is just around a year from now.