Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala scorch shooting trial amid pathetic ambience at range 

PC: S.Kannan


Far from the madding crowd and hustle and bustle of the city, a few billboards welcomed a sparse but motley crowd to the Karni Singh ranges in Tughlakabad. The shooting trials for the Paris Olympics have been hyped, and rightly so, in the capital. Yet, the way the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) had paid scant attention to a putting up even decent posters or photos close to the firing point was shocking.

These trials are part of the process to determine who represents India on the biggest stage this summer, yet to see posters of the Para Shooting World Cup held last month showed that no thought had gone into so many aspects. Shooting is about ambience, and simulating conditions as close to possible to those at the Olympics. Instead, what one saw was visuals which made for poor viewing. As the backdrop of the picture at the top of this article suggests, no change was made.

If this is the way the maiden trials are to be held for the 20 quota winners, it was in poor taste. Even at the firing point, where the shooters were stationed and taking aim for the two finals of the day – women’s sports pistol and men’s rapid-fire pistol – there was nothing to suggest this was an Olympic trial. Only the announcement said so, and even that could have been better.

Carelessness or don’t-care-a-damn, one was not sure, since the lack of interest in decking up the arena stood out like a sore thumb.

Be that as it may, when it came to the two finals, Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala were in blazing form, as they soaked pressure like sponges. On the technical conduct front as well, there were a lot of shortcomings. The NRAI fielded five shooters, whereas there should have been three more to complete the shooting bays. Easily, “zero shooters” could have been added

There is a way and pattern to the elimination, but even the shooters were kept guessing as the rules were not explained well. Perhaps, all the marksmen on view are inured to such things from the NRAI. Manu and coach Jaspal Rana spoke of how multiple trials are very hard on the shooters. But then, nobody is complaining, as they (shooters) just want to go through the trails and punch their ticket to Paris.

If Manu showed concentration, a freeze-frame pose and immense calm, it has been learnt through hours of practice. She was slightly off-colour in the qualification phase on Friday. But the cards she shot on Saturday were exceptional. She was running away with the final, even as Esha Singh crumbled. Pressure or technique, one is not sure. Yet, all is not lost. There are three more trials for Manu, in sports pistol plus two in air pistol. Esha also has more chances.

“I am glad thing went well today, certainly preparing hard and being ready helped me,” said a modest Manu. Her final score of 47/50 was a national record. Promptly, Manu was taken for a dope test by the NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency).

In the rapid-fire pistol event, Bhanwala, who was off-colour yesterday, was in the mood on Saturday. Watched by personal coach Harpreet Singh, himself a former rapid-fire pistol marksman who won medals in the Commonwealth Games and Asian meets, Bhanwala showed he was going to burn the field. His score of 33/40 in the final oozed class. 

After the winner was declared, Bhanwala came and touched his Harpreet’s feet, symbolic and a sign of respect. He too went for a dope test organised by NADA, and left the range without speaking to the media.

“I don’t want him to talk to the media, use social media etc. There is no scope for distraction,” said Harpreet. But the coach did speak to RevSportz at length. “Anish mera bachcha hai. Ye mera padosee hai Haryana mein [Anish is my child. He’s my neighbour in Haryana],” said Harpreet. The coach was proud, as he saw in his ward form resembling fire.

“This boy is not going to give up the next few trails as well,” said Harpreet. “He has learnt a lot and how to handle pressure. Anish came one day and told me he wants to pick up a job. I scolded him and said focus on shooting.”

There was both focus and form as Bhanwala overshadowed the field which included Vijayveer Sidhu and three others.

These trials are far from over. New Delhi and Bhopal will see shooters being pushed hard. One hopes that the right setting can be provided as well. Celebrate these trials, and put up posters, please.