GOLD COAST: Even after winning, Manu Bhaker is nonchalant. “I don’t know why people are calling me so much,” she said after winning gold in the 10m air pistol event at the Belmont Shooting Centre on Sunday. Coming from any other shooter, this could be an indication of arrogance and indifference but from a 16-year-old it can be dismissed as childish innocence.
That’s where her coach Jaspal Rana is worried. “She is young and has won medals at almost every event she has entered into,” he said. “Let’s see if we can work out a strategy so that she grows both technically and mentally.” The growth should be all-inclusive.
She is impulsive, unpredictable and different. She dabbled with boxing before giving up after getting hurt during a warm-up routine. She tried her hand at martial arts but renounced it after just one day. She had no inclination to take up shooting but when she chanced upon the sport in her school, she took it up.
Her penchant for perfection and precision has made her an ace shooter. She is restless but when she holds the gun, she is steady. Pressure is not part of her lexicon. On Sunday, it crept in.
“I agree there was bit of pressure due to the expectations and I have lived to up to it. I took it like a practice game,” said Bhaker.
All she did was concentrate on her technique and the ritual she follows during practice. “Even before the event, I was not bothered by what was going on in the world. I just tried to replicate what I learnt during training.”
Coach Rana is also a little perplexed. Success at such a young age is commendable but winning everything might lead to an overdose eventually.
The role of coach will be crucial here. The pressure is on him as well. “She has been winning in everything in the last few months which is excellent. But she should not lose the hunger. Our primary objective is to win at the World Championships and get the quota for the Olympics. The Asian Games is also important. We will have to be careful how we handle her.”
Graduating from juniors to seniors is tricky. Even the manager of the team, Ronak Pandit, felt she should be handled with care.
“She is a natural shooter but needs polishing. When they begin, most shooters are like this because they don’t carry any baggage and there’s no burden of expectation,” he said. “It needs to be seen how she handles pressure as she progresses with more expectations on her.”
There is another subplot thanks to the emergence of the 16-year-old. A healthy rivalry is blossoming between Bhaker, who won a gold in the same event at the World Cup at Guadalajara in March, and Heena Sidhu, who won silver here. But the Haryana native isn’t really bothered about potential clashes.
“I did not have anything specific in my mind. I didn’t think that I have to duel with this shooter or that or it is a big event like the Commonwealth Games. (...) I got two records.”