PUNE, Mar. 6: Manu Bhaker, 16, etched her name in the history books by clinching women's 10m air pistol gold at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Sunday. She became India's youngest and probably world's third youngest shooter to win a World Cup gold.
Rifle shooter Gagan Narang and pistol shooter Rahi Sarnobat were India's previous youngest World Cup gold medallists at 23 in 2006 and 2013 respectively. Singapore's rifle shooter Lindsay Veloso and USA's shotgunner Vincent Hancock, both aged 15, had won World Cup gold.
The Jhajjar girl, who started shooting just two years ago, scored 237.5 in the final to beat local favourite Alejandra Zavala Vazquez by a meagre 0.4 point difference in a dramatic fashion. Alejandra is a multiple World Cup and World Cup Finals gold medallist and has been shooting since 1998, four years before Manu was born.
Manu was introduced to shooting at her school in 2016. Universal Senior Secondary school in Goriya Village is the only place to have a shooting range in the Jhajjar district. The shooting range is 25km away from her residence and the standard XI student trains for almost five hours every day.
Within two years of starting competing, Manu became national champion in all three categories she is eligible to participate in — youth (U-18), junior (U-21) and senior — with 15 medals from the National Championships in December last year.
Manu was leading by almost 1.5 point throughout the 24-shot final. She shot without taking the pressure of the big stage and didn't look troubled or nervous at any point.
But the gold almost slipped from her hand when she shot three below-9 shots within the gap of seven shots. Manu's 17th shot was a 8.4, she recovered by shooting a 10.2 in her 18th shot, but an 8.1 in her 19th shot gave another scare to her hopes of winning gold. A roller coaster ride followed with 10.8, 9.4, 10.7 and an 8.5 in her penultimate shot.
Before the last shot, she was 1.4 point behind the Mexican shooter. It was a gap, very difficult to bridge for Manu, as along with shooting a great shot herself, she had to depend on her opponent's mistake.
Manu shot 10.6, which needs a lot of precision, and more than that a lot of confidence at that stage of the match. On the other hand, under heavy pressure, Alejandra shot an 8.8 to give away the lead and the yellow metal to the Indian.
Other than winning the gold at a young age, Manu's medal is special as it came while competing against three Olympic (Celine Goberville, Anna Korakkai and Heidi Diethelm) and multiple World Cup medallists. Also, this is the first World Cup where women shooters hit 60 shots in the qualifications. Women shooters used to shoot 40 shots, before the ISSF changed the rules from January 1, 2018 to bring gender equality in the sport.
"This medal will motivate me to reach greater heights in the future and I dedicate this to my family and coaches, who have been supportive throughout," Manu told.
When asked what ran on her mind before the final shot, she said, "I just told myself to focus on my technique irrespective of my standing in the final. I just did that and it worked."
Her father Ram Kishan is an engineer with merchant navy, while mother Sumedha is the principal of her school. Her father told TOI that he was not surprised of Manu's feat. "She got her first pistol only after days of her trying the sport for the first time. She is dedicated and I knew if she is asking me to invest in something, she will not take the sport lightly," the proud father said.
On Sunday, Manu's compatriot Yashaswini Deswal was commendable too with her fourth-position finish. Yashaswini shot 196.1 and missed out on the bronze.
With the coveted gold, the pistol shooter from Haryana became India's youngest World Cup medallist. Rahi Sarnobat at 23 had become India's first woman pistol shooter to win a World Cup gold in 2013. Manu's medal is India's only fourth overall pistol gold in the World Cups.
Earlier, in the qualification round, Manu had qualified fifth with a score of 572, which is a new Juniors' Qualification World Record. Yashaswini was placed seventh in the qualification with 571. Top eight shooters in the qualification proceed for the final.
Meanwhile, in the men's 10m air rifle event, Ravi Kumar clinched his first World Cup medal by winning bronze with a score of 226.4 in the final. Another Indian, Deepak Kumar, finished fourth. TOI
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