Soon after the women’s 10m air pistol final, bronze medallist Heena Sidhu went and had a word with Manu Bhaker, who finished fifth. The 28-year-old Indian had fought back from the brink of elimination to win the bronze but had just about missed on the top two position, making it a bittersweet medal. But it was this moment that stood out as much as the podium finish.
To the uninformed eye, it was a conversation between two compatriots. But it was a very meaningful gesture. Before the Asian Games, there was bad blood brewing over selections. Sidhu was picked for only one event while 16-year-old Bhaker competed in all three – 10m pistol, 25m pistol and mixed team event. The 28-year-old, who has won the ISSF crystal globe in the event, had said that she should have been in the mixed team as per the selection criteria. But the decision stood.
This had caused a stir before the Games and had understandably affected both players. Sidhu said that the selection controversy played a bit of a negative role in her preparation. But at the end of the final, none of the mattered, because she had won her first individual Asiad medal.
In qualification, she was 17th at one point. In the final, she fell to seventh. In both cases, she held her nerve and fought back. Bhaker, on the other hand, had finished third in qualification. At the Commonwealth Games, the teen had finished ahead of her senior teammate in the same event.
So what did she tell the youngster?
“I felt that I have to go out there and clarify to her that it is nothing personal. I told I have nothing against her in my mind, there was a time I was also like you, trying to make a mark for myself. You are doing well, don’t have anything against me. So she said ‘yeah I don’t’ so it was good.
“I am way older to her. If I feel that so-and-so is saying that I should have gone there and Heena shouldn’t have, it means a different thing. It means that it is not personal. Everyone is trying to get what they deserve, it is not personal. But for a young child, it can feel personal, that she is trying to target me, I am a young one and the seniors are bullies. But at the end of it, everyone is fighting for nothing less than what is the best for them right?” Sidhu told Scroll.in after her final.
Group-shifting cost gold
Sidhu is known to not mince her words, and was just as candid as she spoke about her final. It was a case of a gold/silver lost as much as a bronze won for the former world No 1.
“I lost the final because of my group shifting. If you look at my start, the grouping was very tight, all the shots in that one cluster but they are all high. So I had to keep adjusting my gun and it took a lot of shots, that is where I lost. Even though I was shooting well, the group shifting cost me. This is something that can happen anytime, anywhere according to how you are gripping your pistol, the change in the lights or change in muscle tone, or the height of the target. It’s just happened to be my lucky + unlucky day,” she said with a little laugh.
Sidhu and Bhaker were fifth and sixth respectively after the first series of five shots each. But Sidhu fell to seventh after the second, just before the elimination began. But after 14 shots in the 24-shot final, Sidhu moved to third with a 10.6 and 10.3, and was able to maintain it for bronze.
Before her penultimate series, she was placed fourth, 0.1 behind Iran’s Golnoush Sebghatollahi and she hit an almost-perfect score of 10.8 to secure a medal. She needed 10.2 to challenge for silver, but came up with a 9.6.
“When I shot that I thought it should be a good 10, I was expecting a 10.4 or 10.3 but it was a 10.8. Even for the 9.6, when I shot it, I got a good feedback that this would also be a 10 but it was 9.6. So had it been what I had called, I would have made it to the next round,” she explained.
When Plan A didn’t work
But the bronze is still a vital medal and the manner in which she got there will give her a huge mental boost, especially with the World Championships and an Olympic quota at stake in a few days. Sidhu’s mental toughness has come under the scanner several times lately, but she has worked a lot on that aspect and the results have been showing.
“The game plan is always to go out there and do well from the first shot. But that does not always happen and many times you find yourself in do or die situation. In those moments you can buckle under pressure, but these are like the 25 shots of my life and you need to be able to turn things around. Fortunately we have been able to click at the right moments, but unfortunately why the Plan A is not working is something we will have to look at. Ideally we don’t want to face with that situation,” Ronak Pandit, Sidhu’s coach and husband, told Scroll.in.
Sidhu thrives when she is relaxed at the range and often needs to talk about things other than her match. On Friday, this distraction was Comicstaan, the comedy reality TV series, to which Pandit jokingly dedicated the medal to.
“After the qualification, we had to do a short debrief where we could have done better at the start of the qualification and then revising and remembering all that we need to do in the final. In the two hours break, we did about 15 minutes of debrief and then we just put on stand-up comedy for one hour. This whole week we have been watching it daily. Sometimes you don’t need to learn anything, all that you need to do is unclutter your mind,” Pandit added.
The comedy series also helped relieve the fatigue and stress of all the pre-Games events. “This is the first time in my 12 years that I said something against the selection, and I know I was right given the scores… I felt like I deserved something and I didn’t get it. I usually forget, I am good at forgetting these things but this time, it did play in my mind. I have played a lot of matches this year, somewhere I feel that exhaustion also. So it was a mix of everything, many emotions,” Sidhu said.
“With all this watching comedy, we have been doing it every day to counter that also.
“We try to counter stress with laughter; it releases all the nice hormones in your body. But I am not saying that because I was laughing so I was normal, I was just trying to fight through the stress. It’s some strategies we use, laugh, try to look bigger, talk like you are confident even if you are not,” she added.
The positive body language she mentioned was another standout feature of Sidhu’s final. She looked sharp, composed, assertive, like a “boxer entering a ring”, as Pandit says. And despite the bittersweet bronze, she has done exactly what she said she wanted to before leaving for Indonesia – win an individual medal.