Last month, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) announced the Indian shooting squad for the Tokyo Olympics. Though, some names included in the team raised eyebrows, one name that stood out was Manu Bhaker. The 19-year-old pistol shooter was named to compete in 3 different events – Women's 10m Air Pistol, Women's 25m Sports Pistol and the 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team.
Competing in three different events, that too, at the same edition of the Olympics, is not anyone's cup of tea and with her selection, Manu Bhaker becomes only the second Indian to participate in 3 different events at the same Olympics after the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist, Gagan Narang.
The young lad has already succeeded to make India proud at several events on international platforms. However, participating in Olympics seems to be special as she has earned three chances to win an Olympic medal which is really not easy for any sportsperson to do so. It should be noted that there are many rising shooting stars who have earned lot of medals for the country. Nonetheless, Bhaker has been the face of Indian shooting for the past few years and continues to be as deadly as ever who practiced shooting coming to her from an early age. Though as a teenager, she has quickly risen through the ranks to become the latest Indian shooting star.
But, guess what! She does find any pressure in going to three different events. "I have been shooting in three events at the international level for the past three years. Why would there be any pressure on me?" she told The Times of India. "I have maintained the no.1 position in 10m and 25m trials. I have been shooting better scores than anyone else. I had to make way for others at the Asian Championships and shoot in MQS so that others can get a chance to shot for (Olympic) quota," she said.
Hailing from Jhajjar, Haryana - a state known for boxing and wrestling - Bhaker went for sports like tennis, skating and boxing in school. She even participated in a form of martial arts called ‘thang ta’ that led her to win medals at national level. However, she finally found her comfort in shooting when she was just 14 - just after the 2016 Rio Olympics ended - and had her heart on it soon. Within a week, Manu Bhaker asked her father to get her a sport shooting pistol to hone her craft. Her ever-supportive father, Ram Kishan Bhaker, fulfilled her wish and Manu’s burgeoning talent soon manifested itself on the national stage within a year.
Now, the World No. 2, is leaving no stone unturned to finish with a medal in Tokyo and is spending close to 12 hours every day in the range to fine-tune her skills ahead of the Olympics. "I get up at six in the morning and reach the range at 8:30. I am home at 3:30 and have my physical sessions followed by my training with the psychologist and then I go to bed by 9:30 at night," stated the Haryana girl.
The Covid-19 pandemic postponed the games by a year and Manu feels that the extra time has helped her develop as a person. "The Games postponed for a year, but then that was for everybody. I have invested a lot of mental energy into the Olympics. However, a lot changes in a year, performance and personality wise. For me, it has been for good. I have grown as a person in the last one year and it is certainly helping me with my performance. I am nervously excited about going to the Olympics," she added.
Asked her what are her goals for the Tokyo, she answered, "To win gold, maybe even multiple golds."
If Manu Bhaker succeeds in clinching medals at all her events, she will not only become India's most successful athlete at the Olympics but she might also become the first Indian woman with multiple Olympic medals in her bag. She will also stand a chance to become the first Indian to win multiple medals at a single edition of the Olympics. Besides all this, she will also be in competition to become the youngest Indian to win an Olympic medal – a feat which the 18-year-old shooter Saurabh Chaudhary might also be eyeing at the Tokyo Olympics.