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Shooting

La Pistolera: Manu Bhaker aims for Paris payday

Manu Bhaker is the only shooter selected for two individual events.

La Pistolera: Manu Bhaker aims for Paris payday
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Manu Bhaker with Jaspal Rana after winning a medal.

By

Abhinav K

Published: 7 July 2024 2:29 PM GMT

At just 22 years old, Manu Bhaker has already become a household name in Indian shooting. While most teenagers are navigating exams and social circles, Bhaker is busy chasing medals on the international stage, with her sights set on Olympic gold in Paris 2024.

Born in Goria village in Haryana's Jhajjar district, known for its rich sports culture, Bhaker's journey into sports began early. Even during her school days, she showed exceptional talent in various sports like tennis, skating, and boxing. Her skills in Huyen Langlon (Thang Ta), a traditional Manipuri martial art, also earned her medals at the National Games. It's clear that sports are deeply ingrained in her.

At the age of 14, Bhaker's career took a remarkable turn. Inspired by the 2016 Rio Olympics, she developed a keen interest in sports shooting and approached her father, Ram Kishan Bhaker, for a sports pistol. This marked the beginning of a new era in Indian shooting. With an initial investment of โ‚น1,50,000 from her father, Bhaker committed herself to competitive shooting, setting the stage for her meteoric rise.

Her dedication paid off swiftly. She clinched her first major victory on the international stage by securing a silver medal at the 2017 Asian Junior Championships. Notably, she also surpassed the multiple-time World Champion and former Olympian Heena Sidhu by breaking Sidhu's record of 240.8 points with an impressive score of 242.3 in the finals.

International Stage

At her senior international debut at the ISSF World Cup in Guadalajara, Manu Bhaker shattered the junior world record in the qualification rounds, securing her place in the women's 10m Air Pistol final. In an impressive display of skill, Bhaker overcame former Olympic gold medallist Anna Korakaki and world champion Celine Goberville to clinch the gold medal with a score of 237.5 in the finals. She added another gold in the mixed team event, partnering with Om Prakash Mitharval, and made history as the youngest Indian to win a gold medal at an ISSF World Cup at just 16 years old.

Bhaker continued her winning streak at the Commonwealth Games. At the 2018 Gold Coast Games, shortly after her triumph at the Youth Olympics, the 16-year-old dominated the women's 10m Air Pistol event, setting a new Games record with an impressive score of 240.9 points. Her exceptional performance in the qualifying rounds underscored her rising talent.

Moving on to the 2018 Asian Games, Bhaker once again demonstrated her prowess by setting a new Games record in the qualification rounds of the 25m Air Pistol event. However, despite her strong showing, she narrowly missed the podium, finishing behind Rahi Sarnobat in the final rounds.

Tokyo Olympics

Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary delivered an impressive performance in the 10m air pistol mixed event at the 2019 ISSF World Cup, establishing themselves as strong contenders for gold at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. However, the intense pressure of the Olympic Games proved challenging for Bhaker. During her individual event, she encountered a pistol malfunction, requiring her to pause and rectify the issue, ultimately impacting her qualification chances despite her determined efforts to recover.

In the subsequent 10m air pistol mixed event with Saurabh Chaudhary, they initially led the Stage 1 qualifications but faced setbacks, finishing in 7th place overall. Bhaker's Olympic journey continued with the 25m pistol category, where she and fellow Indian shooter Rahi Sarnobat faced disappointment after failing to secure a qualification spot.

Looking Ahead: Paris 2024

Devastated by setbacks at the Tokyo Olympics, Manu Bhaker embarked on a transformative journey. In an interview with The Bridge, she disclosed integrating yoga into her routine for mental fortitude and adopting a more disciplined approach guided by coach Jaspal Rana. These changes empowered Bhaker to rebound from her Tokyo heartbreak and achieve a significant milestone: securing India's 11th quota place for the 2024 Paris Olympics at the 15th Asian Shooting Championship in Changwon, South Korea.

Looking ahead, Bhaker's focus remains razor-sharp: Paris 2024 Glory. With potentially reduced expectations compared to her previous Olympic campaign, Bhaker is poised to surprise and potentially emerge as a champion on the grandest stage of all.

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