Commonwealth Games 2018: Manu Bhaker, Heena Sidhu's medals in 10m air pistol a reflection of depth in Indian shooting

If Manu Bhaker felt the weight of her inexperience or the enormity of the occasion on Sunday, she didn’t show it.

Manu, still only 16 years of age and competing at her first Commonwealth Games, went home with a gold medal around her neck, finishing first ahead of the likes of former World No 1 shooter Heena Sidhu and Shun Xie Teo.

 Commonwealth Games 2018: Manu Bhaker, Heena Sidhus medals in 10m air pistol a reflection of depth in Indian shooting

Heena Sidhu and Manu Bhaker after their medals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Image courtesy: Twitter @Ra_THORe

As if to emphasise how irrelevant the conversation around her inexperience was, Bhaker shattered the Commonwealth Games qualifying record — set by Dina Aspandiyarova when Bhaker was four years old — in the early hours of Sunday with a 388 out of 400. And then she surged ahead in the finals, her position at the top of the standings never once threatened during the 24 high-pressure shots.

In fact, she had discovered such a purple patch that her first 10 shots in the 24-shot finals read 10.1, 10.0, 9.9, 10.5, 10.4, 10.2, 10.4, 9.6, 10.4 and 10.0. By contrast, Sidhu had just one shot in the 10s among her first 10 shots.

The field at shooting events at the Commonwealth Games is not as competitive as an Asian Games or the Olympics. But among the eight finalists in the women’s 10m air pistol event on Sunday, there lurked four Olympians — not to mention that six of the eight shooters had previous Commonwealth Games experience. Bhaker was among the remaining two, no previous appearance at the Commonwealth Games or Olympics to bank on.

What adds to the intrigue of shooting is that once the competition starts, the shooter is on his/her own. No teammates to help like football or cricket. No coach lending advice during the breaks like badminton, table tennis or hockey. Shooters just stand rooted at the same spot between shots, prisoners of their own thoughts.

But Bhaker doesn’t seem to need that helping hand. Over the past few months, she has made winning a habit.

The 16-year-old shooter won two golds at the 2018 ISSF World Cup in Guadalajara — the first in the 10-metre air pistol, where she beat two-time champion Alejandra Zavala Vazquez in sensational fashion. She was trailing by 1.7 before the last two shots in that event and her penultimate shot was a dismal 8.5. However, her last shot of 10.6 helped her win gold by a 0.4-point margin. She followed that gold with another — this time in the 10m air pistol mixed event with Om Prakash Mitharval.

She followed that up with twin golds in last month’s ISSF Junior World Cup, again in the 10m air pistol and 10m air pistol mixed events.

It was a day where India’s emerging depth in shooting became apparent with Bhaker, the young Turk, claiming gold while the battle-hardened Sidhu winning silver.

If Bhaker’s gold was never under threat, Sidhu’s silver medal came after some gritty shooting by her in the face of pressure — each bullet coming like a shot of insulin.

The rules of shooting dictate that all eight shooters complete 12 shots, before the competitor with the lowest score goes home. This pattern of slow elimination continues after each second shot.

On Sunday, Sidhu consistently found herself just one bad shot away from elimination. Yet, she consistently put herself ahead of just one competitor to survive, eventually making it to the top three. After the 10th shot, she was languishing in sixth spot with 95.5 points. Her 12th shot was a 10.4, her 14th a 10.3, her 16th a 10.4 and her 18th a 10.3. Her next four shots had three scores over 10 — the finest demonstration of clutch shooting.

She eventually faltered in her last two shots, but not before she has assured the country of a one-two finish for the first time at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Her victory will also taste sweeter given the controversy which raged over sending her coach Ronak Pandit, who is also her husband, to Gold Coast.

Two Indian women — one a teenager and the second a veteran — winning gold and silver in the same event is a sign of how much depth there is in Indian shooting at the moment.

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Updated Date: Apr 08, 2018 19:47:29 IST