Youngster Manu Bhaker was one of India’s top shooting medal hopes at Tokyo, especially in the 10M pistol mixed team event with Saurabh Chaudhary, another teenage prodigy. She participated in as many as 3 different shooting events, the first Indian athlete to have a unique chance to win as many as 3 medals at a single Games.
But the 19-year old’s first Olympics tryst turned out to be a forgetful one as she failed to qualify for any of the finals. Speaking exclusively to CNN News18’s Shivani Gupta, she opened on her show in Tokyo for the very first time.
‘I couldn’t perform to my calibre and it upsets me but sometimes things are not really in your control and you can’t do anything about it. I was expecting a good performance and I couldn’t really do it but it’s a learning. I have a long career so I am looking forward to the next one, ‘said Manu.
But for Manu, even as the Olympics went on and she had events left to shoot, headlines were grabbed by National Rifle Association of India chief Raninder Singh who came out to media to talk about how Manu Bhaker’s former coach, the Indian Junior pistol team coach, Jaspal Rana was a ‘negative factor’ in the team before Olympics and despite efforts, they couldn’t sort issues between Manu and Rana. The two parted ways in April, even if their relationship had clearly turned completely sour before that itself.
Officially new coach Ronak Pandit was assigned the role of one of the pistol team coaches for the Tokyo contingent.
Manu opened up about the fallout for the very first time.
‘We were not really able to cope up with each other, I guess. I think it was time to let go. The thing is I have always shot in three events – the 10M women’s and mixed and 25M pistol. During the selection and prior to that also things were not really good between us. He (Jaspal Rana) didn’t support me during the selections. It was clear from my scores and ranking that I was the better player. Out of four rankings, I was first in three, still, he didn’t support the decision (to play 3 events). Prior to that my technical part was not going very well as I was having some confusion and problems but we couldn’t do anything about it.’
Manu also revealed that Rana asked her to withdraw from 25M pistol category in key events and then ‘completely destroyed her trust’ during the Delhi World Cup in March 2021.
‘On my face, he told me to focus on 10M and not bother about the 25M air pistol. I did withdraw from the Khelo India games and Junior World Cup 2019. I didn’t really question him. He told me to withdraw and I did.’
‘When you trust somebody completely, you don’t expect this.’
Some sources say, Rana made Manu withdraw from the 25M pistol event so that his daughter could get a chance to shoot. Speaking exclusively to CNN News18, Rana refuted these charges, denying that he made Manu withdraw from any event. But he did say that he felt Chinki Yadav was shooting better than Manu in the 25M pistol event and that he fought for the former to be included in the Olympics team over Manu here.
‘Two events were enough for Manu at her age. Chinki was the better shooter and I stand by that,’ said Rana. Manu and Rahi Sarnobat represented India in the women’s 25M pistol event in the Olympics and that selection was done by NRAI as per their selection criteria.
But it didn’t end here. Manu described her troubles with Rana further. ‘During the World Cup in Delhi, he was there on the range but he was not there with me. He was my coach on paper. For me during the Delhi world cup, only he was my coach but he did not show up anywhere at my events. Even if he was there at the range, he was not there behind me.’
The federation President Singh said they tried to patch things but it was clear they couldn’t work together. This was after an ugly episode of Rana parading Manu’s mother’s message to him on a T-shirt in front of everybody also made the federation finally sit up and take notice.
‘The message has nothing to do with me. A lot of people are questioning me about the message but it was by my mother. My parents were witnessing me suffering so obviously they were also upset. Why would they see their daughter go through this?’ asked Manu.
When questioned on his act, Jaspal Rana just said that ‘That it was my personal T-shirt, why should it be a problem for anyone else. I didn’t write anyone’s name on it. And it was after the event, so it could not have affected Manu’s performance at the World Cup.’
Manu on her part seemed focused on moving on even as she was clear about how all of this coming from her trusted coach affected her deeply. ‘We had a glorious past which I will never forget. It was amazing but it was time to move on. Not doing well in Tokyo, it was my mistake but somewhere this was also always on the back of my mind,’ rued Manu.
The entire episode and details shared By Manu Bhaker have indeed revealed the less-than-ideal experience she had to deal with right ahead of the Olympics and it raises serious questions if the federation failed to protect a young medal hopeful from poor handling. Raninder Singh has promised a complete overhaul, but that can certainly not be reduced to one or two individuals alone. Apart from the fall out of Bhaker and Rana, the rest of the team also underperformed.
Rana told CNN News18, ‘The leader of the shooting family should also take responsibility,’ hinting at NRAI president himself. Manu though was clear that she would continue in all 3 events. ‘I am going to stick to my three events. I am on a break right now and after that, I shall be back.’