Commonwealth Games 2018: Anish Bhanwala, Bajrang Punia strike gold; Pooja Dhanda, Mausam Khatri bag silver

If you tracked his shooting in the 25m rapid fire pistol final closely, you would have wondered how someone so young could be as unflappable as Anish Bhanwala. Then you realise that he is 15 and belongs to a generation that knows no fear and is unfamiliar with pressure of expectation. With his opponent breathing down his neck, he shot five on five and claimed gold. Done and dusted.

 Commonwealth Games 2018: Anish Bhanwala, Bajrang Punia strike gold; Pooja Dhanda, Mausam Khatri bag silver

Anish Bhanwala became the youngest Indian to win a CWG gold. AFP

Then again, if you tracked someone who started shooting in 2002, the year Anish Bhanwala was born, you wondered how someone could remain as hungry as Tejaswini Sawant in the 50m rifle 3 positions. Then you realise that 37-year-old from Pune belongs to a generation that enjoys shooting immensely, pressure be damned.

On a day which started with dismal news that two athletes, triple jump finalist AV Rakesh Babu and 20km race walker KT Irfan had been sent away from the Games Village for breaching the Commonwealth Games Federation’s no-needles policy, the gold medals won by the shooters quickly cleared the clouds of gloom that threatened to envelop the Indian contingent.

The scepter of doping was looming over the team but Sawant and Bhanwala as well as Anjum Moudgil, who won silver in the 50m rifle 3 positions, were untouched by the goings-on and wrested the attention back to the competitors who have kept India in third place on the medals tally. Later in the day, wrestler Bajrang Punia added to the golden haul.

Bhanwala, all of 15 years of age, became the youngest Indian to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal when he showed impeccable nerves in the final of the 25m rapid fire pistol shooting event. The Haryana lad shot down the Games record in the final with 30 including four series of 5 each (scores of 9.7 and above qualifying as a hit).

The debutant made every post a winning one, coming up with a five to put the gold beyond Australia’s Sergei Evglevski, son of Lalita Yauhleuskya who won bronze in 25m pistol in the Sydney Olympic Games. Anish’s team-mate Manu Bhaker had become the youngest Indian Commonwealth Games gold medallist earlier this week when she won the 10m air rife final.

Both are Jaspal Rana’s proteges. That Anish sang the national anthem when the flag was going up during the medals ceremony will endear him to many who believe sport is a great unifier and can instil massive pride in people, especially in the light of the events of the recent past causing unrest, not just on social media.

Sawant and Moudgil were the first to lift the spirits of the Indian camp with a gold-silver show in the women’s 50m rifle 3 positions final. The 37-year-old from Pune held the lead from the first shot in the final and broke the Games record with a score of 457.9 in the final, scoring 152.4 in kneeling and 157.1 in prone positons before the eight finalists got to the elimination stage.

The previous record of 449.1 was set by Jasmine Ser Xiang Wei (Singapore) in Glasgow in 2014. Moudgil, 24, had led the qualification with a Games record herself and sustained her form into the final where she shot 455.7, holding second place throughout with scores of 151.9 in kneeling and 157.1 in prone.

On another day — perhaps if it were a World Cup – Moudgil’s comeback from a nightmarish showing in the 50m rifle prone a day earlier would have grabbed a lot of attention. She seemed a wholly transformed shooter, more like the one who finished runner-up in the 50m rifle 3 positions at the ISSF World Cup in Guadalajara in Mexico last month.

Like legendary Sushil Kumar, 24-year-old Bajrang Punia has earned himself a reputation in the Commonwealth. It made things so easy for him as he breezed to gold medal in men’s 65kg freestyle wrestling, vanquishing each of his four rivals with a great degree of comfort. The easiest of his wins was in the final when he needed just a period to establish his superiority.

Punia’s gold saved the grapplers the blushes on a day when a club wrestling coach Pooja Dhanda (women’s 57kg) and Mausam Khatri (97kg) took for silver in contrasting styles and Divya Kakaran (women’s 68kg) picked up bronze after a semifinal defeat on technical superiority by the eventual gold medallist Blessing Oborududu (Nigeria).

Pooja Dhanda, 24, had a gilt-edged chance to overturn the contest after conceding a lead to Nigeria’s World Championship runner-up Odunayo Adekuoroye in the first period. With a swift move in the final minute, she came within a whisker of achieving a win by fall but she appeared too tired to close the victory and stop the 24-year-old Nigerian from retaining gold won in 2014.

The 27-year-old Mausam Khatri, on the contrary, made little effort to challenge South African car parts salesman Marin Erasmus in the gold medal bout. Perhaps the 2010 Asian Games bronze medallist was wary of hurting his knee further but his 23-year-old rival was not complaining as he went on to became South Africa’s first Commonwealth Games wrestling champion since 1958.

The nation’s badminton, table tennis and squash players continued to delight their compatriots, assuring India of more medals as the business end of their events are approaching. They have been quietly efficient, doing what is needed for them to stay in the medal hunt with intensity and professionalism.

Boxers Amit Pangal (49kg), Gaurav Solanki (52kg), Manish Kaushik (60kg) and Vikas Krishan Yadav (75kg) won their semifinal bouts to join legend MC Mary Kom (women’s 48kg) as finalists. Hussamuddin Mohammed (56kg) and Manoj Kumar (69kg) lost to their English rivals while Naman Tanwar (91kg) was beaten by Australian Jason Whateley and settled for bronze medals.

India’s surge towards the 64-medal mark, the best achieved in a Commonwealth Games overseas, will continue on the penultimate day of the Games on Saturday with a lot of familiar names, such as boxer MC Mary Kom, wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik as well as the mixed doubles squash pair of Dipika Pallikal and Saurav Ghoshal expected to harvest gold.

The men and women’s hockey teams, which lost their semifinals to New Zealand and Australia respectively, will hope to return home with bronze medals but they will have to beat the England squads one more time. Not an easy task. The men’s 50m rifle 3 positions shooting pair of Sanjeev Rajput and Chain Singh will look to emulate their women counterparts.

Yet, a great deal of interest will be centred on javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra in the final. The world U-20 champion, competing in a multi-discipline event for the first time, will be the cynosure after boxing legend Mary Kom’s bid to make her maiden Commonwealth Games medal a golden one.

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Updated Date: Apr 14, 2018 04:43:16 IST