Wednesday, April 25, 2018

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Nerves of steel

Teen shooters Manu Bhaker, Anish Bhanwala and Mehuli Ghosh set the CWG afire with their precision shots. But the challenge for them lies in retaining their skill after transition to adulthood21 Apr 2018 | 2:21 AM

Manu Bhaker doesn’t know pressure. Shooting is child’s play for her. If Indian fans were certain of one gold from the Commonwealth Games (CWG) at Gold Coast, it was hers, in the women’s 10m air pistol event.

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Rohit Mahajan

Manu Bhaker doesn’t know pressure. Shooting is child’s play for her. If Indian fans were certain of one gold from the Commonwealth Games (CWG) at Gold Coast, it was hers, in the women’s 10m air pistol event. She’d build up a formidable profile over the past one month, winning gold at the Senior and Junior World Cup in Mexico and Australia. Everywhere she went, people asked her for gold. But she doesn’t know pressure. “Shooting is a very simple sport, but if you try to complicate, it becomes complex,” she said after her victory. “It’s a technical game. If we make a small effort, we’ll get good results. You should have mind control and calmness. It’s simple.”

This analysis is incredible. It’s a precision sport, in which the target is like a pinhead across the room: Shooters press the trigger between heartbeats, else the beating of the heart could send a tremor down the shooting finger, making it shake — the difference can be between a perfect 10.9 and a 9, the difference between gold and silver. Experienced shooters get the shakes when a perfect shot is needed. Manu was fearless — her fearlessness is born of youth. She’s 16 and she doesn’t complicate matters thinking too much about shooting or technique. She broke the CWG record in both qualification and final without breaking a sweat.

Perfect 5

Manu is often seen with Anish Bhanwala, 15, a cheerful and equally fearless shooter. When Anish needed a perfect 5 in the men’s 25m rapid fire final to nail gold, he got it — he had to hit 5 targets 25 metres away in 4 seconds. He did it, and the packed finals hall of the Belmont Shooting Range first let out a collective gasp, and then broke into wild cheering. Anish merely grinned happily. When he was handed gold, without prompting from the photographers, he simply bit it in a child-like gesture. He’d become the youngest Indian gold winner at the CWG, breaking Manu’s five-day record. The two train under the same coach, Jaspal Rana, the great shooter from the past, who was a child prodigy himself.

“Let’s have an ice-cream Manu!” Anish said to Manu after winning gold, and the two were off to have an ice-cream, behaving more like the schoolkids they are than the best shooters in their event in CWG, and among the best in the world.

Oh Ghosh!

Mehuli Ghosh, 17, also made the finals hall gasp — she needed a perfect 10.9 to equal Martina Lindsay Veloso. It’s the perfect shot, you can’t score more than 10.9 in shooting — to put it in context, it’s somewhat like getting an eagle in golf when you need to tie the leader on the 18th hole. Mehuli was also fearless, but she also showed her inexperience — she heard the whole hall go mad in celebration, and she thought she’d won gold. Martina, all of 18 herself, looked at the screen in front of her and remained calm. Mehuli left her shooting posture and celebrated; then she realised she had to shoot more to break the tie. There she faltered, getting a 9.9 to Martina’s 10.4.

“I made a mistake, I thought I’d won gold,” she grinned later. “But never mind. I’ve got silver, and I’m very happy!”

Shooting stars

Only two of India’s teen medallists won gold at CWG, both in shooting; the only Indian teen to win silver was also a shooter; the other two teen medal-winners were 18-year-old weightlifter Deepak Lather and 19-year-old wrestler Divya Kakran, who both won bronze.

For the teen stars, greater challenges lie ahead — they must manage the transition from spontaneous to thinking shooters.

“When you start thinking, you start wondering about all your movements,” says Deepali Deshpande, former Olympian, now coach of Anjum Moudgil. “When that happens, a teen shooter loses her spontaneity. You can shoot very well later too, but now it has to be done by mastering the technique. A shooter has to work harder on her technique.”

Deepali says this rite of passage is the fate of every shooter. “This happens to every shooter, 100 per cent of all,” she said. “It’s a transition phase. Some shooters get lost in this transition, some stay strong.”

Deepali talked about teen sensation Malaika Goel, who won silver at the 2014 CWG in the 10m air pistol event. “We’re not hearing of her anymore. There are many other kids like her,” said Deepali adding, “Mampi Das, for instance. She was as good. But in the transition, we lose some shooters.” “The real challenge for Manu or Anish lies ahead — how they manage the transition,” said Deepali.

Heena Sidhu, who won silver in Manu’s event after a stirring performance herself, said she’s happy at Manu’s emergence because she has world-class competition at home. “If we have three world-class shooters in one category, it’s just great because each one is pushing the other,” said Heena. “Manu is building up with better scores with each global competition. Let’s hope she keeps up the improvement.”

Once Manu and Anish cross their teens, they’ll lose their teen spontaneity too — it’s good they’re under the care of Jaspal Rana, himself a teen sensation of the 1990s. Rana should help them manage the transition.

Nerves of steelManu Bhaker
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