The Indian contingent will field an unprecedented 15 shooters — pistol, rifle and skeet — at the Tokyo Olympics this year. It will be three more than the tally of Rio 2016 and the Indian shooting contingent will have a realistic chance of recording their best-ever performance at the Games.
One of the major hopes for India will be 2019 World Cup gold medallist Manu Bhaker. At 19, she is set to represent the contingent across three events — the most for any Indian shooter — at Tokyo 2021.
Bhaker will be seen in action in women's 25m pistol event and in her pet 10m air pistol category. The teenager will also be paired up with Saurabh Chaudhary in the mixed team event.
So, how did Bhaker start her journey, and what are her achievements thus far. Let us have a look at her fledgling career:
Tried out a hand at multiple discipline
Bhaker's foray into shooting did not come naturally as she had tried out at her hand at multiple disciplines. The Jhajjar-born athlete excelled in boxing, martial arts and skating at national level before realising her true potential in shooting. It was then with the support of her father that she grew in the discipline drastically in a few years.
Father stood as a pillar for young Manu
Manu owes a lot of her success to her father Ramkishan Bhaker, a chief engineer at the merchant navy, who stood by her side and charted an easy road in her career. Her father made an early investment of INR 2 lakh to help career get underway.
And as Manu continued to rise through her ranks, Ramkishan Bhaker, would ensure that his ward had all the access to the nearby shooting ranges. As a result, within a few years after starting her career, Manu earned her first international success with a silver medal at the 2017 Asian Junior Championship.
Rise of Manu Bhaker
It was at the 2018 World Cup in Mexico that Bhaker came to the fore after defeating two-time champion and local favourite Alejandra Zavala. The Indian shooter clinched the top podium finish, marginally, as she scored 237.5 points in comparison to the Mexican's 237.1. Significantly, it also helped her become the youngest Indian to win a gold medal at the World Cup at the age of 16.
Notably 2018 and 2019 was the year when Bhaker grew into the ranks as she clinched 19 medals (individual and team categories) across events. It also helped her make a strong foothold in the Indian ecosystem at a young age.
Later — in the Olympic calendar (2021) — she made her presence felt at the World Cup in New Delhi by bagging a gold in the mixed team event and a silver in the individual category.
What's next for Bhaker?
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has shown utmost faith in Bhaker by picking her up to represent the country in three events at the Tokyo 2020. As much as it is a matter of pride for the youngster, she is bound to be duly tested in the Games.
Significantly, it will be a maiden appearance at the Games for the Youth Olympics gold medallist, and the platform in Tokyo can act as a major learning curve for her. The experience of competing against the top shooters at Tokyo 2020 might work as a 'bubble breaker' for her to gain experience and train her mind to be on top of her show at the 2024 and 2028 Olympics.
Bhaker, however, remains the brightest prospect for the Indian shooting contingent at Tokyo 2020.