In January this year, at the senior national selection trials for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, a 15-year-old stepped up and shot a world record score in the final of the men's 25m rapid fire event. Since it wasn't an ISSF-ratified competition, however, the score of 37, which overhauled the world record score of 35 by Italy's Riccardo Mazzetti, would not be registered as a new world mark.
But India had discovered the talent and potential of Anish Bhanwala. The youngster promised bigger things to come. Anish stormed into the senior team that would travel to Gold Coast for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and kept his word. He didn't quite need to recapture the scores he struck at the trials, but he did enough to set a new Games record by scoring 30, and with that, became the country's youngest ever Commonwealth Games gold medallist at 15.
"It feels really good. I was expecting to win the gold," says the teenager nonchalantly, hours after his record breaking show.
He really is the only one who seems to have come to grips with this astounding success; the rest of the Indian sports fraternity continues to fawn over his massive potential. "I didn't feel any pressure at all. I just came out and shot. There was no special preparation that I had to go through before coming here," he said. "The recent World Cup in Mexico was good competition training. But this is a good start; I want to win bigger events in the future."
His early success has come despite him having to share time between academics and sports. Anish is skipping Class X board examinations — although he secured permission to take the CBSE exams a month later — to participate at the Commonwealth Games and he has already made that choice count.
A model student — at one stage, he was consistently hitting the 90 percent range — his grades dropped a notch after he and elder sister Muskan (16), who has also competed at senior international events, steadily grew in the sport. Shooting consumed most of his time and attention, not that he protested. After all, he was the first in his entire family to become a professional sportsman.
Having said that, however, the sport wasn't the first choice. When he was 11, the Karnal native was introduced to modern pentathlon, and he had begun practicing the art of swimming, running and even fencing. A year later, he started sport shooting as well — equestrian show jumping, the last event in modern pentathlon — would be introduced once he turns 18.
But Anish wouldn't get to that stage.
Despite having competed at the Under-12 Junior World Championships in Cyprus, he found that his passion lay in shooting and not in the multi-sport event. And it turned out that he was a natural marksman.
Having started shooting in the 10m air pistol event, he moved to the 25m rapid fire after 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Harpreet Singh — also a Karnal-native — recognised his talent and encouraged the switch.
To aid his training, Anish's father Jagpal, an advocate in Karnal, decided to shift to New Delhi where his son could avail of the better facilities. That was the first step in a rapid rise, that in three years, saw him win gold at his first Commonwealth Games appearance. And on the way, he also managed to bag himself other accolades.
Just last year, at the Junior World Championships in Suhl in Germany, Anish won gold after scoring a world record 579 out of a possible 600. That achievement earned him a spot in the senior team that travelled to Brisbane for the Commonwealth Championships in October. There again, he won gold. He followed it up with another win at the senior national championships, and then blazed past the likes of 2012 Olympic silver medallist Vijay Kumar in trials for Gold Coast.
At the CWG final on Friday, only a shot that would otherwise score 9.7 or higher was counted as a hit. Anish managed 30 of them to break the record set by David Chapman of Australia, who shot 28 at the Glasgow Games four years ago. The 53-year-old veteran was also competing to defend his title, but could only finish fourth.
Winning the silver medal was Sergei Evglevski of Australia, with a score of 28, and Englishman Sam Gowin won bronze after scoring 17 in the final.
While shooting has always been India's strong suit, the Commonwealth Games has seen a massive generational shift. The country rode the teen wave of success at Gold Coast. Manu Bhakar, 16, was the first to pick up gold, in the women's 10m air pistol, followed by 17-year-old Mehuli Ghosh's silver medal in women's 10m air rifle.
Anish became the youngest and most recent member of this exclusive club.
Junior national pistol coach Jaspal Rana had described Anish's game as a perfect mixture of aggression and calmness after the trials in January. The prodigy had once claimed that he will capture the world record at an event bigger than the trials. He couldn't quite get to that stellar score on Friday, but for now, setting a new Games record will suffice.
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Updated Date: Apr 13, 2018 16:48:26 IST