Sixteen-year-old Manu Bhaker elated to share 'biggest success' of career with Sidhu

Susan Ninan in Gold Coast4 Minute Read

Manu Bhaker set down her weapon, lifted her sight, and waited. Her face bore no expression. Standing a lane away, Heena Sidhu wrapped up her final shot of 9.4, slowly lowered her pistol-bearing right arm, and exchanged a wordless hug with the teenager.

There were many things thrown into the churn: A stirring comeback, a shoot-off for the gold, and a shattering of the Games record. If you were looking at both shooters though, you couldn't tell that any of this had happened.

It's probably what the sport trains you to become: Poker-faced and in full control of every cell, muscle and emotion.

Cradling the stuffed blue koala, Borobi, after the medal ceremony, Bhaker ran the risk of sounding incredulous when she mentioned how through the finals she was hoping for Sidhu to climb into medal contention. It's easy to forget that Bhaker is a 16-year-old girl competing at the biggest competition of her career.

"Initially I was unaware of where she stood, but once I got to know I was hoping, praying and telling myself that she (Sidhu) will recover and finish in the medals," Bhaker said. "I just wanted both of us to be up on that podium. Just to hear the anthem and two India flags being raised, that was an experience. I can't put that feeling in words."

Bhaker created a Games record both with a qualifying score of 388 as well as a final total of 240.9 on Sunday. Sidhu managed a cumulative total of 234.

Just before Gold Coast, Bhaker had won two gold medals at the World Cup in Guadalajara. "In some corner of my mind I knew I was the favorite to win here but I didn't allow that understanding to weigh me down or or put me under pressure."

There were hardly any nerves, at least none that one could tell from the way Bhaker fired 14 10s in the final 24 shots with her left hand tucked into her black trouser pocket and her right arm at full stretch. Even as the field narrowed from five to three and finally a shoot-off for gold between Bhaker and Sidhu, it always looked likely that gold would go to the teenager from Goria village in Jhajjar district, Haryana, who enjoyed a five-point lead going into the last two shots.

With eight 10s in the last 14 shots, Sidhu put herself ahead of Australian Eliana Galiabovitch but managed only two 9s in the shoot-off with Bhaker, who posted a superior 9.8 and 10.4.

Albert Perez/Getty Images

Sidhu herself had fashioned quite a recovery, moving from seventh position at 65.7 points and on the brink of elimination in the final, to clinching silver medal. Fighting loose muscles and a tingling sensation in her right index finger, which is essentially the trigger finger, Sidhu says she knew the final was lost for her within the first few shots.

"It took me five shots to figure out what was wrong. But by then the final had slipped away from me. I just couldn't tell where my gun was going."

She faced a similar problem last year too with her index finger trembling, something that only caught her eye when she sat down to fill up a form.

"I'd actually ignored it for a year and MRIs revealed that I had an inflammation in my neck. A month ago I started getting pins and needles sensation on my index finger." The only way to treat is was through physiotherapy but that ended up botching her final few shots. "I couldn't feel the trigger so I had to grip, grip and grip and I'll go home happy that I could win a silver medal here."

The modest spectators' area for the finals at the Belmont shooting center was packed with cheers ringing for India. Sidhu waited patiently with a smile as Bhaker found herself swarmed by spectators and journalists after getting off the podium, with both shooters clasping their medals. "I was trying to tell myself that every shot I fire can't be a 10. That's not realistic. I have to deal with the 9s too and move ahead," Bhaker said.

It was at her university back in her hometown that Bhaker first tried her hand at shooting, as well as other sports like table tennis, boxing and karate. The only difference was, she held on to shooting longer than the others.

"It was the new sport that was introduced and just fit into my hand perfectly," she said, suggesting the sport suited her perfectly with a pointed index finger and a bent thumb to resemble a pistol. Within two years of taking up the sport, she finished with 15 medals at the nationals last December.

Once the cameras and recorders were put away, Bhaker switched on to chatter mode. "Oh I love to do so many different things, painting, drawing, skating, listening to music. The only thing I stay away from is a mobile phone," she said, throwing back her shoulders and cracking her knuckles.

"So far I haven't let my World Cup medals affect me, but this is my biggest success. I don't know how I'm going to handle this one."