Manu Bhaker swears by Jaspal Rana’s coaching ahead of testing trials for Paris

Manu Bhaker
Manu Bhaker (PC: S Kannan)

Elite athletes have their own way of preparing and peaking for a big competition. Even though Manu Bhaker, the pistol queen, has clinched a quota place for India in the 25-metre event at the Paris Olympics, she knows, she is “under trial”.

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), left red-faced after zero medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and in Tokyo three years ago, has tweaked the selection policy. There will be four trials, two each in April and May in Delhi and Bhopal, before the teams are finalised for Paris. India has won 19 quota places till now.

In an exclusive, long chat with RevSportz, Manu opened up on many topics. Two things she has erased from her heart and head – fear and failure. “Just as we shooters are eager to win medals, the NRAI, too, is concerned Indians win medals in Paris,” she said. “I will say nothing on the policy, really. All I will do is give it my best shot in the trials. If I make the squad, good, if I don’t, I will pause and think.”

Maturity and Manu are now integrated. When RevSportz saw her minus an individual medal around her neck at the Asian Games in Hangzhou last year, she looked sad. Yet, she was smiling and celebrating as the other shooters went flat out to win 22 medals.

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Manu Bhaker gearing up for Paris Olympics
Manu Bhaker gearing up for Paris Olympics (Source: X)

After a short while, in October, Manu sealed the quota place for India in 25m sports pistol at the Asian Championship in Changwon, South Korea. This triumph eased the pressure on Manu. It has been a kind of turning point.

“If I recall, in 2022 and 2023, I was winning medals, but shooting was like a job,” she said. “A lot has changed. For me, today, shooting is something I love and enjoy as I started working again with Jaspal (Rana) Sir. I am not going to get upset if I do not make it to Paris, for I have prepared my best.”

Do the trials worry Manu, since they’re going to be tough? “I cannot complain about the trials, it is the same for all,” she said. “I am there in air pistol, as well as 25m pistol trials, and will do my best. I would be lying if I say I am not a wee bit nervous but I am prepared for it. I have been training with my personal coach since 2023, and am at ease now. It’s simple. I trust my coach and my mentor, he is the one who has prepared me. I have told Jaspal Sir, irrespective of what happens in Paris 2024, if I am to continue in this sport, it will happen only if he is my coach. Otherwise, I will give up shooting.”

Those words were a bit shocking, so this writer had to ask her again if she understood what she had just said. “I mean it, if I am to continue in shooting, it will be only by training under Jaspal Sir,” said Manu. “He brings the best out of me and I have made it clear, he is the one who can push me to an Olympic medal. Recently, I met PT Usha Ma’am in Mumbai. It is nice we have a President in the Indian Olympic Association who is a true sporting legend. I have conveyed to her how important it is for me to have Jaspal Sir in Paris and she did hear me out.”

Manu Bhaker
Manu Bhaker (Source: All India Sports/X)

Taking Manu back to the dark days of the pandemic and the Tokyo Olympics was necessary during the conversation. “I think at that time (2021), I was trying too hard and creating pressure,” said Manu. “The pressure to win a medal. No, today I am not putting myself under pressure. I know the trials will be demanding but the situation has changed. Mentally, I am calm, relaxed and am able to shoot without any hindrance.”

Did the daily Covid tests in Tokyo worry Manu? “Yes, the daily saliva antigen test was very worrying,” she said. “We were told even if one shooter tested positive, there would be trouble for all of us. Yes, that was scary. Mercifully, there is no such fear now and all athletes can compete in a relaxed manner. I have shot in Paris before, so if I do get selected to represent India and go there, I will be well prepared. These things help, familiarity with light conditions and so on.”

For someone who is just 22, it feels as if Manu has been around for so long. She is still a kid in many ways, but has spent maximum time on the shooting range. “My journey has been really beautiful,” she said. “I know for sure, in my sport, I can go on for many years. I seek perfection and I am not worried about failure one bit. Yes, it’s hard for me that my personal coach and I do not get to work together daily as we live in different cities. I keep making trips to Jaspal Sir’s shooting range in Dehradun and he also does come here to Delhi. My immediate focus is the trials, that’s it.”

Reminded how legend Abhinav Bindra shot at five Olympics, from 2000 to 2016, Manu said she loved his longevity and how he won a gold medal in Beijing. “Well, if I have to look at shooting for India for more years at the Asian Games and more Olympics, I have to enjoy the process and the sport,” she said. “I love shooting, and I am sure I will continue. That’s my state of mind.”

Also Read: Grandmaster Yuzvendra Chahal back in the race for the T20 World Cup

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