Three events won’t faze Manu Bhaker in Tokyo: coach Ronak Pandit
Changing coach with the Tokyo Olympics in sight is not ideal preparation, but young Manu Bhaker has still made that decision. The pistol prodigy’s best results have come under Jaspal Rana, one of India’s best pistol shooters and coach. Bhaker and Rana though split after the New Delhi World Cup in March.
In Croatia, where India’s shooting squad is undergoing the crucial final preparations, Bhaker is being guided by the team’s pistol coach Ronak Pandit.
Bhaker will have quite a workload to manage in the Tokyo Games (July 23-August 8). The 19-year-old is the only one from India’s squad of 15 who will compete in three events in her first Olympics.
Besides the two individual pistol events (10m and 25m), she is a strong medal prospect with Saurabh Chaudhary in mixed team.
The teenager has been a revelation since 2018, the year she won three titles at the junior World Cup, and gold at the Youth Olympics and Commonwealth Games. However, when things have not gone her way, she has struggled to keep her composure.
Pandit, a former international shooter who coached wife Heena Sidhu to the top of world rankings, flew to Zagreb in the last week of May—a fortnight after the squad had left. Once Pandit, 36, completed his quarantine, he got down to work.
“We took two days to just observe and discuss to understand each other so we could be on the same page when we work. A lot of training was done on scatt (training software) to dissect what she feels versus what actually is happening,” says Pandit.
“Manu is a good student, eager to learn and change if required. Her case to me is like an unsolved jigsaw puzzle. She has all the pieces—technical, mental and physical skills. It was just a matter of putting them together, which wasn’t very difficult.”
Before Pandit arrived in Zagreb, Bhaker participated in the European Championships, where Indian shooters took part in the Minimum Qualification Score (MQS) category. She shot a high score of 587 in 25m sports pistol event. In mixed, Bhaker and Chaudhary were second. She was far from her best in 10m air pistol, with a modest score of 572.
Despite the pressure of competing in three events, Pandit feels Bhaker is in a good space.
“Shooting in three events is the most normal thing for her. Since the beginning, she has shot three events, many a time on back-to-back days, whereas here (Tokyo Olympics) we still have a day in between,” says Pandit, a gold medallist in the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, emulating father Ashok, a multiple CWG gold medallist.
Pandit has worked on her basic technical aspects and made minor modifications to the pre-shot preparation routine. The tweaks will be tested at the World Cup in Osijek, Croatia, starting on Tuesday. It will be the last major event before the Olympics.
In the New Delhi World Cup, Bhaker won silver in the mixed team event with Saurabh, silver in 10m air pistol and bronze in 25m pistol.
“Medal or no medal in the World Cup, the goal is to check the preparedness. The best is to not think about all that and just look at it from a mock exam perspective. The mind knows,” he says.
Post World Cup, Pandit will chart out the final two weeks of training before heading to Japan. “The focus shall shift more to low quantity but high focus training with very specific, tangible goals along with aiding mental and physical recovery.
“With each passing day post the World Cup, we need to taper our training load, keep things short and specific. More than training at the range even physical and mental training, rest and recovery need to be balanced. The mind needs to stay fresh and process-oriented.”
For now, Bhaker and Pandit spend close to eight hours at the range daily, followed by two hours of physical training and recovery. Shooters from Croatia and Slovenia join them for match practice.
“The weather is good, so we can train longer without exhaustion. We ensure we have absolute clarity on what we are trying to achieve in every session.”