One of the most fascinating aspects of India’s medal rush in shooting at the 2018 Commonwealth Games was the way the teenagers stepped up on the big stage.
India topped the tally with 16 medals, seven of which were gold. Manu Bhaker, all of 16 years young, clinched gold in the women’s 10m air pistol event. Meanwhile, fellow 16-year-old Anish Bhanwala bagged gold in the men’s 25m rapid fire pistol and Mehuli Ghosh, 18, won a silver in 10m air rifle.
Even as they continue to shine on the international stage, Ramkishan Bhaker narrates an incident that speaks volumes of his daughter Manu’s soaring confidence.
“At the Commonwealth Games (2018 Gold Coast), there was an arena where athletes who have won gold medals put their signatures,” Ramkishan told Olympic Channel.
“The entry to this arena was supervised by an official. He came running in when Manu entered, and stopped her saying only athletes who already have gold medals can sign here.”
"You'll be surprised to know how Manu responded to this,” he recalled.
“She said I'll win a gold medal tomorrow but let me sign today. But the official denied it. Then she returned the pen to the official and said that I'll have the medal in my hand tomorrow and then sign. We had the faith in her that she will make it to the podium.”
The next day, Manu made history at her maiden Commonwealth Games appearance as she bagged the gold with a Games record of 240.9 points. The more experienced Heena Sidhu, also from India, finished with 234 points for a silver.
It was a moment not only etched in the Indian shooting history but special for her father. For Ramkishan, a chief engineer in the merchant navy, investing money and making shooting ranges accessible for Manu has been like giving wings to her dreams. And he has always tried to make the journey easier for his daughter.
"Every parent invests in their child,” he said. “But I used to take assurance from her that she has to play for at least 1-2 years. Shooting is an expensive sport. But I made sure that Manu (Bhaker) doesn't have to think about it. I told her to keep shooting. Getting access to ranges for her has been my work but reaching there at 4am is hers.
"But we never thought that she would compete in the Olympics."
Incidentally, Manu believes that it is her father's vision which helped her earn early success, and switch from one sport to another after doing well at national level.
Before being drawn to shooting, Manu had tried out at various sports like Huyen langlon, a Manipuri martial art, boxing and tennis.
"He is a visionary,” she said. “I changed almost nine-ten sports at national level and I was doing well. He understood my feelings and was always there when I needed.”
Manu is set to represent the nation for the first time at the Olympics at the Tokyo Games. She qualified for the marquee event after finishing fourth at the ISSF World Cup in Munich, 2019.