Manu Bhaker added the Commonwealth gold medal to the glowing list of achievements in her relatively nascent career.
Bhaker, still only 16 years of age, dominated the 10 metre Air Pistol final in her first-ever Commonwealth Games appearance, defeating veteran and compatriot Heena Sidhu by a margin of six-plus points.
Born to an engineer from the Merchant Navy and a school principal, Bhaker’s meteoric rise has popularised the sport of shooting in the village of Goria in Haryana, where she was born. Father, Ram Krishna Bhaker has described Manu as ‘very competitive’ and ‘one who hates to lose’.
The teenage shooter has always been a natural at sport, and took up various disciplines, including boxing, tennis and Thang-ta, a Manipuri martial art. Bhaker was dissuaded from pursuing boxing after her mother discovered that Manu had a swollen lip after one particular boxing session.
Gold quest in Gold Coast
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After winning a national medal at the Thang-ta championships, Bhaker switched her focus to shooting. Manu first attained glory at the 2017 Asian Junior Championships, where she won a silver.
She stole the show at the National Championships in Kerala, where she won nine golds and broke the national record, held by Sidhu. However, her biggest moment was yet to come at the International Sport Shooting World Cup at Guadalajara, Mexico.
In the 10 metre air pistol final, Bhaker defeated two-time champion and home favourite, Alejandra Zavala. She won her second gold in the 10 m air pistol mixed event, where she and Om Prakash Mitharval shot a total score of 476.1 points.
More recently, Bhaker also won double gold at the ISSF Junior World Cup. Anmol Jain, 19, and Bhaker dominated the final match in the mixed event, finishing with 478.9 points, 1.8-point away from the current World Record at this level.
Bhaker is a product of India’s investment in youngsters post 2012, led by NRAI’s system of appointing of personalised coaches. Bhaker herself is mentored by multiple CWG gold medallist Jaspal Rana.
At Gold Coast, she shot a 388 in the qualifying round, breaking the previous Games record (qualifying) of 386. As coach Rana looked on from the sidelines, Bhaker led from the very start, finishing well ahead of the competition and winning another senior medal, all at the age of 16 - with a CWG record to her name.
“I am very happy... it is my first Commonwealth Games and I won with a qualification record also. The gap between me and the second competitor, that was a huge margin. So it was a pleasure winning this medal for India and I am very, very happy,” Manu said after the event.
If early signs are any indication, India have a gem on their hands.