Manish Narwal has a congenital impairment to his right hand and he can’t raise it, not even while accepting the medal. But for the 19-year-old shooter, his left arm was enough to lift the pistol and win a gold at Tokyo 2020, adding a Paralympic record to his world record final score.
The Indian shot a total of 218.2 to win P4 Mixed 50m Pistol SH1 event, days after agonizingly missing out on a medal in P1 men’s 10m air pistol SH1, in his debut Paralympics. On Saturday, he was on the verge of elimination again but fought back with remarkable composure to clinch the medal many expected him of him. Singhraj Adhana bagged the silver to make it a sensational double podium and the first one-two finish at the Paralympics.
He had a middling start and then scores of 7.7 and 8.3 on his 17th and 18th shot meant he had to do something extraordinary to get back in contention. He responded with a 10.8 and 10.5 to lift himself back into a medal position.
It seemed like a summation of his journey to get here, almost. A tough start, challenges but when the opportunity arose, he grabbed it with his good arm and made the most of it.
After picking up shooting as a sport in 2016, when he was 15 years old, he was ranked 13th in the world at the age of just 16 and has been a consistently top performer since 2017.
Narwal, coming from a sports-oriented family in Ballabhgarh in Haryana, had a keen interest in sports from childhood and grew up wanting to become a football player. But his impairment from birth meant he couldn’t quite fulfil that dream.
In 2016, on the suggestion of a family friend, his father Dilbagh took his son to a nearby shooting range at Ballabhgarh run by coach Rakesh Thakur. That changed Narwal’s life as he instantly connected with the sport. Narwal’s siblings, who are able-bodied, are into shooting as well. His younger brother, only eleven years old, has already made it to the Indian shooting squad.
When he started, Narwal did not know about para sports or the Paralympic Games, he was practising and competing with other able bodies athletes for the love of the sport. His talent was spotted by coach Jai Prakash Nautiyal and after winning medals at various national level competitions, he was selected to represent India at the 2017 Bangkok World Cup.
That was just the start of his many successes in his relatively young career. In Bangkok, he won gold in P1 - 10m Air Pistol Men SH1 with a Junior World Record, both in qualification and finals. He won two medals at the World Para Shooting World Cup, Al Ain in 2017 as well.
The year 2018 was big as he won India’s only shooting gold medal at the 2018 Asian Para Games in Jakarta, where he broke a junior world record in the P1 event while also taking silver in the P4 event. At just 17 years old, he won a quota for the Tokyo 2020.
In 2019, he won gold in P1, P4 and P6 team events and silver in P1 in 2019 Osijek World Cup in Croatia. He also won three bronze medals in P1 and P4 (individual and team) at the Para Shooting World Championships in Sydney. He received the Arjuna Award the following year.
After the sports shutdown in 2020, he returned won gold medal while shattering the world record in P4 mixed 50m pistol SH1 in 2021 Para Shooting World Cup at Al Ain.
In Tokyo, he put in a terrific performance in his first event – the P1 men’s 10m air pistol SH1 – to top the qualification stage with 575 points. But he fell short in his first final after a slow start meant he was eliminated in seventh place. Adhana, who had won bronze then, first spoke about how heartbroken he was for Narwal before talking of his own medal. That’s the kind of hope there were from the teen shooter.
But the 19-year-old fulfilled his dream of winning a Paralympic gold in some style just a few days after. Adhana and Narwal shared a lovely moment after their one-two finish on Saturday, with the 39-year-old hugging and kissing the gold winner, 20 years his junior.
Only 19, this gold is not the start of things but just building up on the stupendous mark Narwal had already set. There will be more to come from the teen shooting star.
With inputs from Sports Authority of India and GoSports Foundation