The classic Indian reaction would be to write it off as fate, but sports fans can’t quite get over teenage-Olympian Manu Bhaker’s gun suffering a glitch. After 16 shots in the women’s 10-metre air pistol qualification event at the Asaka Shooting Range, at the ongoing Tokyo Games, Bhaker’s gun began to malfunction.
Bhaker was not the first Indian to undergo this tribulation. At the Rio 2016 Games — his last Olympics — Abhinav Bindra suffered an equipment malfunction during his fourth-place finish. At the Beijing 2008 Games, his gun was allegedly tampered with, just before the final, but he nevertheless clinched India’s first individual gold.
What happened to Bhaker’s gun?
At the Tokyo Games, the cocking lever at the top of Bhaker’s gun’s barrel broke. When opened, the lever lets the pellet be placed in the barrel. Only when closed is the pellet secured and the shooter able to fire the gun. In Bhaker’s gun, since the lever was broken, it couldn’t be operated.
Thus, she could not load her gun, leave alone fire at the target, said an Indian Express report. Even as her competitors continued to shoot the required 60 shots in 75 minutes in the qualification round, Bhaker had to spend 17 precious minutes in repairing her gun.
The lever breaking is far from common, since it’s a sturdy metal part. Bhaker had to replace the malfunctioning part with one from a spare pistol. Yet, the circuit in the grip or butt also stopped working post replacement, said the IE report.
Olympic events are never stalled for a participant’s equipment defects, so Bhaker lost her chance. She had just 38 of the allotted 75 minutes in hand, and she managed 44 shots.
Why couldn’t she just drop the broken gun and use the spare? It’s a matter of ease of operation, said experts. Shooters perform best with the guns that they are most familiar with. Sights need to be calibrated, so getting the spare gun to sync would’ve cost Bhaker more time than just pulling its lever out and fitting it in hers.
Bhaker did manage to bounce back, hitting three perfect 10s and a 9, said the report. Her six series scores were 98, 95, 94, 95, 98 and 95 for a total of 575, with 14 inner 10s. She finished 12th among 53 participants; the top eight made it to the final.
It was not just the malfunction, but also its timing. Since it happened early in the event, Bhaker was under immense stress throughout the round. This further prevented her from qualifying for the final.
India had placed immense hopes on the teenager for a medal, and her disqualification led to much despair. There was also anger on social media — wondering why her team was not better prepared, and how they could let an equipment fail. Finally, there was hope she would make it in the Paris 2024 Olympics.