Having created a splash with two gold medals at the Shooting World Cup, Haryana teenager Manu Bhaker is the latest sensation to join the long list of star shooters from India.
Manu not only won the women’s 10m Air Pistol gold medal but also partnered Om Prakash Mitharval for the 10m Air Pistol mixed team title in Guadalajara, Mexico on Monday.
In the individual event, the Indian debutant shot a total of 237.5 to prevail over home favourite Alejandra Zavala Vazquez, who finished second with a total of 237.1.
Frenchwoman Celine Goberville finished third with a score of 217.0.
For someone who took to shooting just a little over two years ago, Manu’s rise to stardom has been nothing short of meteoric.
She made heads turn during her maiden venture into the senior level last year by breaking two long-standing national records in a span of less than a month.
But when asked about her feats the 16-year-old laughed them off as happenstance.
“It (breaking records) just happens. I don’t think about them. At times I don’t even know what the records are. People tell me afterwards that I have broken a record. I would like to thank all my coaches for their advice and the hours they have put in to hone my technique,” she said after claiming gold in the girls’ 10m Air Pistol event at the Khelo India School Games last month.
She didn’t just win the gold. She broke two junior national records inside an hour — first in qualifying and then followed it up with another record-breaking performance in the finals.
In December 2017, she won the 10m Air Pistol event, outclassing the highly-experienced Heena Sidhu at the 61st National Shooting Championship in Thiruvanthapuram where she broke Heena’s long-standing national record.
It’s remarkable how quickly Manu has acquired a reputation of being a formidable shooter on the national scene.
A little know fact about her is that before taking up shooting, she was already competing at the national level in different sports.
She even took a national bronze medal in Thang Ta-Manipuri martial art. She was also a state-level skating champion, besides being adept at tennis and swimming.
In her junior classes, she used to regularly win medals in athletics in school meets.
“She has a natural talent for sports. She picks up a new sport quite easily. But her problem is that she used to get bored rather quickly and would give up. Also, there have been times when she felt that she had been handed a raw deal in a tournament. After that she would stop playing that sport,” her father Ramkishan Bhaker said.
In fact, for Manu shooting too happened by chance.
One day a little over two years ago her father took her to the range and asked her to try her hand at shooting.
She fired a few shots that found the centre of the target. That was enough for Manu to pick up yet another new sport with a little bit of encouragement from her parents.
Since that day, the range has been her favourite place where she practices for four to five hours every day.
“The shooting range at her school (Universal Senior Secondary School, Jhajjar) is her favourite place. She feels that shooting is the perfect sport for her. No one can manipulate the results. It’s a transparent sport,” Ramkishan aid.
Manu considers former shooting ace and junior national coach Jaspal Rana, as her mentor.
“Though I practice in the range at my school in Jhajjar, I look up to Rana Sir for advice,” Manu said.
Rana, on his part, said that he doesn’t have to work too hard on a talented shooter like Manu.
“She already has the basics right. For that the coaches who have worked with her earlier need to be thanked. I just have to fine tune the small details. It’s good that she is breaking records at this level, but being consistent and peaking at the right time is equally important,” Rana said.
For Manu, 2018 will be a big year. She has qualified for all the senior and junior ISSF World Cups, Commonwealth Games and the 2018 and Buenos Aires Youth Olympics.
Her goals are clear: to perform consistently and to the best of her ability. The only thing that she needs to adjust to quickly is the pressure of hectic international travel.
“I am prepared for that too. I have even got extra pages added to my passport,” she said. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).