Manu Bhaker: Two ISSF World Cup Final golds, a junior record and retribution

From faulty equipment to unforgiving trolls, Manu Bhaker has overcome more than what meets the eye to end the year on a high.

Manu Bhaker booked a ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in the 10m air pistol, though she missed out on a medal by a mere 0.1 point at the Munich World Cup.   -  Getty Images

Manu Bhaker’s rise in 2018 was nothing short of a fairytale. She announced herself on the international scene with a maiden World Cup gold medal in the 10m air pistol on debut at Guadalajara, Mexico.

She followed that up with two junior World Cup gold medals in the same event in Suhl, Germany, and Sydney, along with a number of continental and national titles.

Bhaker, 16 at the time, then put the icing on the cake with the Youth Olympic title in Buenos Aires in October 2018.

Then came the dip.

READ| Bhaker, Panwar win second gold; Saurabh, Apurvi settle for silver

Partnering fellow 17-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary, Bhaker won the mixed team gold medals in New Delhi, Beijing, Munich and Rio de Janeiro, but her individual form declined. In New Delhi and Beijing, she failed to qualify for the final in the 10m air pistol.

Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary react after winning the mixed team gold at ISSF World Cup.   -  ISSF Photo

 

In today’s social media-savvy world, one mistake is enough for the trolls to rear their ugly heads, and the shooter was on the receiving end. As Bhaker recalled in a previous conversation, “As shooters, we always need to overcome everything.”

But there was more woe to come.

On May 28, in Munich, her equipment malfunctioned during the final of the 25m sports pistol. Bhaker was on top of the leaderboard till the seventh series, when a misfire gave her a score of zero. She was visibly broken and for no fault of her own, she was made a victim online once again.

But what stands out particularly for the markswoman is the manner in which she raised her game – and won an Olympic quota in the process.

The very next day after the malfunction in the 25m sports pistol, Bhaker booked a ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in the 10m air pistol, though she missed out on a medal by a mere 0.1 point.

Bhaker’s year wasn’t over yet, with the World Cup Finals in Putian, China, in November yet to come. With a World Cup ranking of eight in the 10m air pistol and 10 in the 25m sports pistol, she managed to gain her first entry to the marquee event that began on Tuesday. 

Though she failed to make the final in the 25m sports pistol, Bhaker emerged victorious in 10m air pistol, shattering the junior world record with a final score of 244.7 and becoming just the second Indian to win the event after Heena Sidhu in 2013.

Manu Bhaker, on Thursday, also became the second Indian to finish top in 10m Air Pistol in a World Cup Final after Heena Sidhu in 2013.

Manu Bhaker, on Thursday, became the second Indian to finish top in 10m Air Pistol in a World Cup Final after Heena Sidhu in 2013.   -  ISSF

 

Bhaker then clinched her second gold medal in two days at the Chinese Shooting and Archery Administration Center, this time in the mixed team gold medal partnering Russian Artem Chernousov.

Trailing 8-2 in the first half of the gold medal match against compatriot Saurabh Chaudhary and Greece’s Anna Korakaki, victory seemed close to impossible for the Russo-Indian pair. But a series of high 10s from both Bhaker and Chernousov saw the pair level scores at 11-all. From that point, there was no looking back, as they finished with a scoreline of 17-13.

“If you observe really closely, Manu keeps muttering something under her breath when she shoots in the 9s. She keeps saying, ‘You can do it, Manu. It’s alright. You can do it.’ I hardly need to help her. She is mature enough,” said the shooter’s father Ramkishan Bhaker, attesting to her mental fortitude.

Bhaker, with a rating of 1926, finished the year in the third spot in the season rankings.

RIP, trolls. Manu Bhaker is here to stay!