The shooters have been unstoppable at the ISSF World Cups this season so far
They come from different backgrounds, had different initiations to the sport of shooting and have completely contrasting personalities.
Despite these differences, when teenagers Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary pair up together at the shooting range, they make a potent concoction of accuracy, concentration, confidence and calm. A combination that has helped India scale new heights for mixed team pistol shooting in the recent past.
Manu Bhaker is the daughter of a merchant navy engineer from Haryana’s Jhajjar district.
Right from an early age, she was drawn towards sports and took to boxing, tennis and skating in her school days, while also representing her state in a few tournaments for these other sports.
But it was shooting that Bhaker took up professionally, and her family wholeheartedly supported this new endeavour and provided the youngster with the best of facilities and training.
On the other hand, Saurabh Chaudhary is the son of a farmer from Uttar Pradesh who took up competitive shooting as recently as four years ago.
As a 13-year-old, the youngster used to travel long distances in public buses for training as there weren’t any shooting ranges in his village. Chaudhary seemed to be naturally gifted at the sport and rose up the ranks rapidly, becoming an Asian Games gold medallist by 2018.
The two shooters also have completely different personalities. While Bhaker is bubbly, talkative and wears her heart on her sleeve, Chaudhary is a man of few words, generally within himself with journalists struggling to generally coax more than a few sentences out of him during interviews.
Bhaker and Chaudhary barely converse with each other while on the shooting range, but still manage to motivate and get the best out of each other. Bhaker’s charismatic personality helps keep the confidence level up for the pair, while Chaudhary’s pragmatic and composed approach ensures they always stay grounded.
These contrasting characteristics are what make the two teenage shooters such a potent force for mixed team pistol events, with the results there for all to see.
By the time Saurabh Chaudhary made it to the senior circuit, Bhaker was already an Asian Games gold medallist and had recently won a mixed team gold medal at the 2018 Guadalajara World Cup, teaming up with Om Prakash Mitharval.
Mitharval though did not participate in the ISSF World Cup which was held in New Delhi a year later, prompting Indian coach Oleg Mikhailov to pair up Bhaker and Chaudhary for the mixed team event. Despite shooting together for the first time on the senior stage, the two were brilliant as they kept their cool under pressure to win their World Cup gold medals together.
The Indians were trailing after the first two rounds in the finals, but fought back to ultimately bag the top prize with an impressive score of 483.4.
After that contest, Bhaker confessed that she was nervous after a slowish start and felt they had blown their chance, but it was Chaudhary’s calming influence and words that reminded her to stay hopeful and focused till the very end.
Chaudhary’s relaxed demeanour and never-say-die attitude has helped improve his partner’s game; and helped the team get even more success.
About two months later, the duo were back together on the shooting range at the Beijing World Cup, where they just about managed to make it to the finals after finishing in fifth place post qualifications.
Nevertheless, they were supremely precise in the finals as they outclassed Chinese shooters Jiang Ranxin and Pang Wei 16-6 to claim their second World Cup gold medal as a team. The teeangers replicated that feat in Munich a month or so later, making it three consecutive World Cup gold medals for the 10m Air Pistol mixed team.
That tournament was also special for Bhaker as she managed to win an Olympic quota with a fourth place finish.
The duo is now slated to take part at the Rio World Cup - a competition in which Chaudhary has already won a bronze medal in his individual category. They would look to sharpen their game at the Asian Shooting Championships, which are to be held in Doha, Qatar in November.
With both these shooting sensations having already qualified for Tokyo 2020, Bhaker and Chaudhary would be expected to participate in the mixed team event. Riding on their piping hot form coupled with their contrasting yet effective styles, the duo will be one of the teams to beat at the Olympics.