Asian Games 2018: Manu Bhaker, Anish Bhanwala carry Indian shooting’s hopes
Two young sharp shooters from India have raised hopes to an extent in the last six months that it has added to the burden of the shooting contingent, which, on paper, is one of the favourites to bring home a sizeable number of medals from this chaotic port city, also capital of Indonesia’s South Sumatra province.
Pistol shooter Manu Bhaker, 16, has amassed so many medals in such a short time that stalwarts haven’t in their decades of shooting experience. But then the Jhajjar (Haryana) girl is different. Bhaker has many firsts --- she became the youngest to win the Commonwealth Games gold in 10m air pistol at 2018 Gold Coast, she emerged champion with two gold medals --- individual and mixed --- at the ISSF World Cup in Guadalajara. Now, she could become the youngest Indian to win an Asian Games gold. The signs are positive.
But coach Jaspal Rana, who knows the difficulties the precocious talent faces, has warned about leaving Manu and Anish Bhanwala alone to do their thing, grow at their pace. Rana was a child prodigy when as an 18-year-old he returned with the centrefire pistol gold from the 1994 Hiroshima Games.
This being the Asian Games and the Chinese domination in shooting all but assured even before the first competitive shot has been fired at the Jakabaring International Shooting Range, things being tough would be an understatement.
Till date, no Indian woman shooter has won gold at the continental games and, Bhaker and Hina Sidhu have a chance to finish on the podium. No one can say with certainty that the two will dominate pistol events. It’s not a given, as micro-millimetres can make the difference between finishing on top or finishing distant 10th.
For reasons unknown or perhaps the ‘mental block’ against the Chinese, Indian shooters’ performance has been dismal at the Games. A gold at the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games is the only harvest (and, of course, some silver and bronze) in the previous two editions.
To add to that, the team events and some individual pistol and rifle events, where India used to win baser medals, have been shelved to make way for mixed events. But the trend is changing worldwide to make shooting spectator friendly and gender neutral.
Karnal boy Bhanwala is 15 and wants to add to his success this year at the Commonwealth Games in 25m rapid-fire pistol with another gold. For years, one has got used to seeing the likes of Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai and the likes. Now, one has to get used to not seeing them. While Bindra decided to call it at day four years ago at Incheon, the others are in the twilight of their careers.
This Asian Games could see the last of stalwarts like Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Sanjeev Rajput and many more. The time’s come to welcome the new line of shooters.
The coming three days will see the fate of a majority of Indian shooters being decided. Manu and Abhishek Verma come up first in 10m air pistol mixed team, followed by Apoorvi Chandela and Ravi Kumar in 10m rifle mixed team on Sunday.