The Indian shooting contingent continued to suffer heartbreak at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as 19-year-old Manu Bhaker – troubled by a broken pistol – battled valiantly but failed to qualify for the 10m air pistol final on Sunday.
Touted as the strongest medal prospects, the country’s young shooters – including Yashaswini Deswal, who finished a spot below Bhaker in 13th – faced the heat of pressure even before they left their training base in Croatia. They felt the heat quite literally when they arrived in the Japanese capital. The air-conditioning system at the shooting range was faulty on the first two practice days, and while it was mended, the Indian side wilted in the 10m events – the air pistol and air rifle – over the weekend.
The biggest disappointment on Sunday was Bhaker’s struggle with her gun, which cost her crucial time and a spot in the 10m air pistol final. She started strong and was third at the end of the first series, but a freak incident midway through the second series rendered her helpless. The metal cocking lever, which must be retracted to place a pellet in the gun prior to each shot, had broken.
It was something her coach Ronak Pandit defined as a “never-seen-before” scenario. “The lever is a metal piece, and it rarely ever breaks. I’ve never heard of something like this happening,” he said.
As it happened
The snag meant Bhaker had to walk away from the firing line and go to the test tent a few yards away to replace the damaged piece. The entire process left her with only 36 minutes to complete the remaining 44 shots, meaning she had less than a minute for each shot.
“She was prepared for the situation and recovered well. But the pause and shortage of time disrupted her rhythm,” Pandit said.
Bhaker needed a 10 on her last shot to qualify for the final but managed only 8. She broke down and was inconsolable. “She’s understandably disappointed. She’s very hard on herself. I’ve given her the rest of the day off and she’ll be back to the grind tomorrow,” said Pandit.
The 10m air pistol gold went to Vitalina Batsarashkina of the Russian Olympic Committee, while Bulgaria’s Antoaneta Kostadinova and Ranxin Jiang of China took the second and third spots on the podium, respectively.
Bhaker will be in action in the mixed team 10m air pistol event with Saurabh Chaudhary on Monday morning, and the women’s 25m air pistol two days after.
The two Indian men in action on Sunday also failed to cross the first hurdle as Dipak Kumar shot a below-par 624.7 to place 26th, while Divyansh Singh Panwar totalled 622.8 to finish a woeful 32nd in the 10m air rifle qualification.
Former world championship junior bronze medallist, the 20-year-old William Shaner of the US, who won the World Cup gold in Delhi in March, pipped 16-year-old Sheng Lihao and Yang Haoran of China for the gold.
In the men’s skeet, Asian champion and world record holder Angad Vir Singh Bajwa shot 73 following rounds of 24, 25 and 24 to stay in the race for a final berth after three rounds. However, Olympian Mairaj Ahmad Khan spoilt his chances with a third round of 22 after having shot 25 and 24 in the first two. Two-time Olympic champion Vincent Hancock of the US led with a perfect 75 along with Eric Delaunay of France. Two more rounds will follow early Monday morning, with the final featuring the top six scheduled for 12:20 p.m. India time.
On Saturday, two-time Olympian Apurvi Chandela and world No. 1 Elavenil Valarivan failed to progress to the final of the 10m air rifle, while Saurabh Chaudhary, after stupendously topping the qualification round, finished seventh in the 10m air pistol. Abhishek Verma lost out in qualification.
The unexpected below-par performances of the Indian shooters over the first two days could be attributed to a matter of nerves; one could say that the situation got the better of them. But if anything, this will serve as a reality check. It has given the Indian shooters a taste of failure and whets their appetite to scale up in the remaining events.
This batch cannot be ruled out just yet, feels rifle coach Suma Shirur. “They are a resilient bunch. I trust them to get up and get ready to compete again in two days.”