Manu Bhaker, on board the Tokyo bus

Manu Bhaker, just 17, seems to have picked up the lesson King Bruce learnt from the spider: Keep coming back up after every failure. You’ll succeed one day.

After failing to qualify for the Beijing and New Delhi World Cups, Manu Bhaker won an Olympic quota at Munich, though she missed out on a medal by a mere 0.1 point.   -  Special Arrangement

The story of Manu Bhaker’s attempts to win an Olympic quota for the 2020 Games is reminiscent of the Scottish folk tale King Bruce and the Spider.

Partnering fellow 17-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary, she won the mixed 10m air pistol event at three successive International Shooting Sport Federation World Cups.

The pistol ace, however, was failing in the individual event. In New Delhi and Beijing, she failed to even qualify for the final. But the Youth Olympics champion then lifted herself up for another attempt, and on May 29, in Munich, she won an Olympic quota, though she missed out on a medal by a mere 0.1 point.

“I’ve always faced the pressure of performing, so maybe that is why things sometimes went down. But then Jaspal (Rana) Sir said, ‘I will get what I actually deserve and not what I want,’” said Bhaker.

While the National Rifle Association of India, the country’s ruling body for shooting, has the discretion to allot the quota that Bhaker won to a shooter of its choosing, the choice should be an easy one — Bhaker is, after all, the Commonwealth Games and Youth Olympics champion in the 10m air pistol.

“It feels very good, but the quota is not on my name. It is for the country. I need to work hard to manage my ranking,” said Bhaker.

What stood out particularly for the 17-year-old was that she won the quota just a day after her equipment malfunctioned during the final of the 25m sports pistol — the other event that she excels in.

Bhaker had been on top of the leader board till the seventh series, where a misfire gave her a score of zero. Compatriot Rahi Sarnobat went on to beat reigning world and former Olympic champion Olena Kostevych 37-36 for the gold medal and, more importantly, a quota for Tokyo.

“What happened in the 25m hardly happens to anyone, maybe once in a million. Till that day it hadn’t happened to me. And if it happens in the final, it’s naturally worse. Moreover, I had been exceptional in the final round until that happened. Getting eliminated when being at the top... Yes, it is very heartbreaking,” said Bhaker.

Bhaker was visibly shaken up after the elimination, but in barely a day she’d picked herself up again.

“As shooters, we always need to overcome everything — ups and downs and even happiness sometimes,” she said.

“There are things which are not in my hands. (It’s) destiny, I guess,” Bhaker said when asked about her performances in the 25m sports pistol event. “It is not something that I think about a lot now. Last year also I missed all my medals (by finishing on) the fourth or fifth rank. It was heartbreaking then, but now I think that I will get it when my fate hands it to me.”

“My scores in practice are really good. At the China World Cup, I couldn’t score well. In Delhi too my scores in the 25m were good. But I really try very hard to keep going, to perform the way I do in practice. I try to calm myself down. I am dealing with the pressure during the matches,” she said.

India now has seven Olympic quotas with Sarnobat’s and Bhaker’s in Munich — which she says is the toughest World Cup as it has the maximum participation — with a chance of winning one more in the 10m air pistol. The other five quotas have come from Apurvi Chandela, Anjum Moudgil and Divyansh Singh Panwar in the 10m air rifle and Saurabh Chaudhary and Abhishek Verma in the 10m air pistol.

READ | Manu Bhaker clinches Tokyo Olympics quota in 10m air pistol

To provide a chance to others to clinch a Tokyo quota at the next Rifle/Pistol World Cup in Rio de Janeiro in August, Bhaker will be fielded in the minimum qualification score section.

Bhaker agrees that Indian shooting is on a good wicket, as it topped the medal tally for the third World Cup in a row. “Yes, India has been very impressive in shooting in the last three World Cups. If you compare these performances with previous years, we hardly got any medals. But this time it has been completely different,” said the 2018 Guadalajara World Cup gold medallist.

Bhaker appeared for the class 12 board examinations earlier this year after the Sports Authority of India got the Central Board of Secondary Education to reschedule them. Her results are out, but Bhaker is not thinking about college yet with the Olympics a little over a year away.

The stakes are high and the competition is cut-throat, but Bhaker believes that not giving in to the stress is the key.   -  Special Arrangement

“Yes, obviously (I am looking forward to the Olympics). My dad will take care of that (college admissions). I want to get into Delhi university, but attendance and their examination schedules are an issue. They always clash with major competitions,” she said.

The stakes are high and the competition is cut-throat, but Bhaker believes that not giving in to the stress is the key.

“I don’t think about my weaknesses. I always work on them and improve. A lot of people around me are very positive. I have many good friends and my family too supports me. It helps me stay focused,” she said.

Bhaker, still young, seems to have picked up the lesson King Bruce learnt from the spider: Keep coming back after every failure. You’ll succeed one day.