So far, Manu Bhaker has garnered four individual gold medals and six mixed-team gold medals in her three-year-old career.
Hailing from a military family, where her grandfather Rajkaran Saheb saw action in three wars between 1962 and 1971 as a soldier, the idea of taking up shooting as a career wasn’t a distant possibility for Haryana’s Manu Bhaker.
However, before she took up the sport that would eventually bring her fame, Manu Bhaker had tried her hands in Huyen langlon, a form martial arts, boxing, tennis and skating, some of which also fetched her medals at the national level.
It was Manu Bhaker’s father, a chief engineer in the merchant navy, who had first recognized her talent early on and decided to splurge Rs 1,50,000 for his daughter to take up shooting. The money turned out to be well spent as a 16-year-old Manu Bhaker excelled in the women’s 10m Air Pistol event almost instantly.
Manu Bhaker went on to become the youngest Indian gold medallist at the 2018 International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) held in Mexico. The same year also saw her making her maiden appearance at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast where Manu Bhaker shot a CWG record score of 240.9 points to win a gold medal in the women's 10m Air Pistol event.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal was followed by an Asian Games record score in the 25m pistol event and the girl from Haryana's Goria village was suddenly all over the news, as the nation prepared for the Tokyo Olympics.
Manu Bhaker’s very first whiff of international success came at the 2017 Asian Junior Championships, where she had won a silver medal, and that was just the beginning.
The same year saw Manu Bhaker bagging a phenomenal nine medals at the National Games in Kerala, highlighted by breaking a record set by veteran World Cup medallist Heena Sidhu with a 242.3-point haul.
There was no stopping the Haryana youngster thereafter, as she kept breaking the big guns in 2018. Her competition in ISSF Mexico World Cup was against local favourite Alejandra Zavala in the women's 10m Air Pistol category after Manu Bhaker had qualified for the finals quite comprehensively.
The tournament saw the Indian shooting sensation narrowly edging out the two-time champion by an incredibly close margin of 0.4, thus becoming the youngest Indian to win a gold medal at the ISSF World Cup.
After her success in the individual event, Manu Bhaker turned her sights to the doubles event. She was showered with success there as well as she partnered compatriot Om Prakash Mitharval to win her first gold medal in the 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team event of the 2018 World Cup in Guadalajara.
At the 2018 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Manu Bhaker was not only the first shooter but the first female athlete from India ever to win a gold medal at the event. Manu Bhaker was getting sharper as years progressed, thereby proving again that age was just a number for the teenage sensation.
The proof of Manu Bhaker’s phenomenal talent was on display in 2019 when, despite not being in top form, she managed to win a gold medal at the 14th Asian Championship as well as in the Air Pistol ISSF World Cup final in Putian, China.
The icing on the cake was, however, qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics in the 10m Pistol event after finishing fourth at the ISSF Munich World Cup in May 2019.
It was only after Manu Bhaker’s first mixed team partner Om Prakash Mitharval was unable to compete at the ISSF New Delhi World Cup that Indian coach Oleg Mikhailov decided to pair Manu Bhaker up with young Saurabh Chaudhary. It was the beginning of a new era.
Indian shooters Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary were pairing up for the first time but there was no sign of nervousness whatsoever as they won their ISSF New Delhi World Cup mixed team gold medals in a magnificent fashion.
Saurabh Chaudhary’s relaxed demeanour brought India’s mixed team duo unparalleled success as they repeated their gold feat at the 12th Asian Airgun Championship in Chinese Taipei in the very next month in March.
They continued their gold rush at the ISSF Beijing World Cup by beating China’s Jiang Ranxin and Pang Wei and also at the ISSF Munich World Cup, thereby winning three consecutive World Cup gold medals for India’s 10m Air Pistol mixed team.
So far in her career, Manu Bhaker has won four individual gold medals in her pet 10m Air Pistol event and six gold medals in the 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team event. However, the ongoing self-isolation could make things difficult for the Indian shooter.
Still only a teenager, Manu Bhaker can aim high as she polishes her skills going forward. And if the cluster of medals she earned early in her career is anything to by, she could be on course to make her country proud on the biggest stage of all - the Olympic Games.