25m pistol: Manu helps India clinch team gold, eyes individual glory
The 21-year-old superb qualifying round helped the Indian team win the 25m pistol gold with ease.
The Asian Games must feel different to Manu Bhaker. After all, it was at this stage five years back when Bhaker, then 16 and having broken through as a teen prodigy, tasted her first real failure. At the Jakabaring Shooting Range in Palembang in 2018, Bhaker finished sixth in 25m pistol final and fifth in the 10m air pistol decider. Six years on, she has her shot -- literal and proverbial -- at redemption.
And she made a good start to that quest by helping the Indian 25m pistol team win the team gold on Wednesday. The Indian trio of Bhaker, Esha Singh and Rhythm Sangwan won gold medal in the women's 25m pistol team event at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, on Wednesday. India had a total score of 1759, three more than China who won silver. Republic of Korea clinched bronze with 1742.
Manu shot 590 to top the qualification round. Esha finished fifth with 586. Rhythm finished seventh with 583 but since only two shooters per country can compete in the final, she missed out. The 25m individual final will be held at noon on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Bhaker had topped the precision stage of the 25m pistol qualifying round, shooting 294 out of a maximum of 300 across three series of 10 shots each. On Wednesday, three more qualifying series in the rapid stage await following which the final line-up will be decided. She shot well in the women's team qualifier (precision) too where the trio of Bhaker, Esha Singh, and Rhythm Sangwan scored 876, two points ahead of China and eight ahead of third-placed Chinese Taipei.
Well begun, however, is only half done. More so in Bhaker's case who had entered the 2018 final on the back of an Asian Games qualifying record (593 points) only to implode in the final. High-pressure events have been a bit of a concern for the 21-year-old who fizzled out in all her three events (10m, 25m, 10m mixed team) at the Tokyo Olympics too.
Indian shooting squad's failure in Tokyo has left only three survivors -- Bhaker, Anish Bhanwala, and Akhil Sheoran -- from the team that competed in the 2018 Asian Games. With shooting not being part of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, Hangzhou Asiad is the first big-ticket litmus test for her as far as multi-discipline events go.
Bhaker insisted she has moved on from the debacle. "I am a very different shooter and a person from Tokyo," she had said last month. "Every experience teaches you a lot. I think I am a lot calmer and mature person now." Having contemplated retirement, she returned to coach Jaspal Rana and claimed to have rediscovered her love for shooting.
It is not as if she has completely forgotten to win, but the bulk of Bhaker's recent international success has come in the junior field, including a five-medal haul at the 2021 World Championships in Lima, while her best individual result since Tokyo in senior internationals remains a fourth-place finish (25m) at last year's Changwon World Cup. So, while a top finish at the halfway stage of the qualification is a bright start, there may still be a wicket twist in the redemption tale. Bhaker, and India, would fervently hope otherwise.
For the third consecutive day, on Tuesday, Indian shooters had to endure the heartbreak of a fourth-place result, this time the young pair of Divyansh Singh Panwar and Ramita Jindal being at the receiving end of the dreaded finish. In a pulsating, nerve-wracking final at the Fuyang Yinhu Sports Centre, the Indians lost 20-18 to the Korean duo of Hajun Park and Eunseo Lee. The Indians raced to an 8-0 advantage before the Koreans caught up, but at 15-11 after the 13th series, India needed a solitary point to win bronze. But the Koreans made it 15-all and then 18-all before sealing the contest to hand India a heartbreak.