Age cannot be an excuse for Manu Bhaker - Shooter Heena Sidhu
Commonwealth Games gold medallist in Pistol Shooting, Heena Sidhu tries to dissect the Indian shooting team's failure at the Tokyo Olympics.
India's medal hopes in the 10m air pistol mixed team category came to a crashing halt on Tuesday morning when shooters Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhury failed to qualify in the finals.
The duo started with an impressive tally in their first qualifiers, where they finished right on top. However, the debacle started to follow soon.
In one of the series of the second qualifiers, Bhaker had fewer 10s than her partner Saurabh Chaudhary, who scored plenty of 10s throughout the qualifiers. She had scored a lot of 9s and a couple of 8s to bring the team down to the 7th ranking. Bhaker's stroke of bad luck continued in series 2 where she shot relatively more 10s but hadn't plugged her 8s.
All hell broke loose after the duo was eliminated, and several came down with scathing criticism towards 19-yea-old Bhaker. Many put her coaches on the wire. The Bridge spoke to former world number 1 pistol shooter Heena Sidhu in a detailed conversation where she tried to dissect what happened at the Asaka Shooting Arena today. The Commonwealth Games gold-medallist shooter opined that Bhaker could not handle the pressure in Stage 2 of the qualifiers.
"She (Bhaker) couldn't handle the pressure. She should have been better prepared to understand what she would face. I observed some red flags in the qualification round, and when she shot the second series, it looked very scattered, which was not a good sign. She started fumbling a little bit in the qualification round 1 only, but it wasn't that visible. But then by round two, she was all over the place. That is what really dented the performance. Had all those 8s been even 9s, they would have been in the final," said Sidhu.
Many delved into the fact that though Bhaker and Chaudhury was world no.2 in their respective individual categories, they hadn't beaten the Chinese or Koreans in the follow up to the Games. Sidhu observed, "People said that India had the best chance, and they were top-ranked. But in my mind, I was always discounting it by 20-25% because Chinese and Koreans were the ones they had not been up against. So, but still, I never expected this performance."
Bhaker came back after a devastating performance in the women's 10m Air pistol event of Sunday; she was seeking redemption from her poor show in the individual event, where a double malfunction of her pistol, led her to wage a battle against time and crumbled under pressure shooting 8s, failing to qualify for the final. "Bhaker tried to give a tough fight. Throughout that match, on Sunday, we saw her fighting back. And she was devastated. Everybody saw her crying also after the match. And looking at her performance today, I can say that she got affected a lot by it because she was not able to pull herself today. So I think this is going to be one of those first incidents for her, and how she handles it from here is going to be something to look out for."
Earlier today, the NRAI president Raninder Singh had told the press that "There was just one person who was the negative factor in the whole thing. I am referring to Jaspal Rana. Before the tour to Croatia (where the team relocated in May), there was a lot of internal wrangling in the pistol squad among coaches. That was addressed to all by me in person in an eight-page letter I wrote prior to the team leaving for Croatia."
Sidhu further stated, "Bhaker was not okay with that coach, how he was treating her. And he had not been a good influence on her for the past few months. And she was suffering and we also how he wrote that personal message that he that she sent him on his shirt, and was parading around during the World Cup in front of all the NRAI officials. It was not a healthy thing to see. So that was the first red flag that was visible to the Federation. Manu and her father had told the Federation that we do not want to work with him. So options were given to her. They first tried to work it out with Jaspal and Bhaker and make sure that they can work together. But still, it didn't happen."
Sidhu discarded the age factor that many pointed out, sighting that both Chaudhury and Bhaker are 19, and it was too much expected from them because they had proven their worth through the scores, and everyone analyzed it. "I don't want to talk about the age part. We can always give that excuse; we cannot keep mollycoddling ourselves and telling ourselves they are only 19. They're 19. But they have been shooting senior scores; they have been going to senior World Cups, they have the potential, and nothing is wrong with that.
One of the major pointers that Sidhu added was how Indian shooters chose their battle. They tend to play every World Cup. But that has somehow affected their preparation for the Olympics. " I think we are the only country who give full attendance at every match, which is put on the ISSF calendar. It is not required. Look at China, and they have been doing this for ages now. China let their athletes go out and just win the medal. And then they come back and keep preparing again. I think we do not have a very good understanding of which battles to pick up and where to just train for the big war."
She added, "World Cups happen four times a year, Olympics happen once in four years. No importance is attached to World Cups; there is a lot of importance attached to the Olympic Games. This is something that our juniors were not mentally prepared for. They thought that the Olympics is going to be the same story as a World Cup or a Commonwealth Games."
Delving into the 2016 Rio Olympics Game failure of shooters, Heena said, "Now we have reached a point where there is such a big pool of talent that if you to ride into the performances Saurabh or Abhishek, why didn't we add them along with Jitu Rai? Why did they replace him? You know, this story could very well be the repeat of Jitu Rai, who went on giving a similar performance in the 2016 Olympics, and what happened to that poor guy in the next four years? If we don't take care of Saurabh now, who knows, he could meet the same fate."