Rising through the ranks, teenage pistol shooter Anish Bhanwala makes cut for CWG

At the selection trials just a fortnight ago, Bhanwala shot 37 in the final of his event, surpassing the 35-point world record set by Italian shooter Riccardo Mazzetti in 2014.

Anish Bhanwala, 15, has earned a spot in India’s CWG shooting squad, after a world-class show at the national trials.

When the time came for Anish Bhanwala to start sport shooting, he was handed a rather peculiar gun – there were no pellets. It was a laser gun that he was to use for the 10 m shooting event of the modern pentathlon. Barely a year into his training for the multi-sport event (which also includes running, swimming, fencing and equestrian show jumping), and he had already competed at the Junior World Championships in Cyprus, in the U-12 category. But in training, he’d use a standard air pistol.

“There weren’t many good quality laser guns available, so I had to get my own pellet gun,” he says. “The basics of both were the same. The trigger mechanism was a bit different, but the pellet gun was more stable than the laser one, which was of a lower quality and we’d only get to use them a few days before competition.”

By the time he was 12, he knew something wasn’t working out. He’d already started working on the running, swimming, shooting and fencing disciplines (he could start equestrian show jumping, only after 18), but was better at one. He remembers sitting with his father after training, discussing, dissecting and plotting a route forward. “Shooting was going quite well, so we decided that I needed to spend more time and focus on the others,” he recalls of that meeting.

A thought crept up after that session of reflection. “Instead of wasting our energy on things that weren’t working, why not just focus on shooting?” Bhanwala adds. “India anyway has a much bigger culture of sport shooting. So maybe I’d be good enough for it.”

It was a modest guess, as three years later, at the age of 15, the youngster from Karnal is now a junior world champion, senior national champion, dominated the national team trials with a world record-breaking score (though it has not been ratified by the world body since it was at a domestic event), and is now a part of Indian team for the Commonwealth Games in April.

Ask him if he’s surprised at how quickly he’s risen up the ladder, he offers: “Bahut aage jaana hai. So it is good things have started coming together early. Gives me lots of time to get to bigger things.” He wants to continue riding that unexpected wave of success in the 25 m rapid fire event.

In the last few months alone he’s managed to beat Olympians like Gurpreet Singh and 2012 London Games silver medallist Vijay Kumar. At the selection trials just a fortnight ago, Bhanwala shot 37 in the final of his event, surpassing the 35-point world record set by Italian shooter Riccardo Mazzetti in 2014. But the scores cannot be ratified by the ISSF since it was not at an international competition. It has, however, given the teenager a shot of confidence. “I’ve already done it once, and that was a big thing. So I know I can do it again,” he says.

Prodigious talent

He did set a new world mark in the junior level however. Last June, he scored 579 in the Junior World Championship in Suhl, Germany to set a new record and win gold. “At that level, there are a lot of kids who come in with similar capabilities, but not all last,” says Jaspal Rana, 2006 Asian Games gold medallist and national coach of the junior pistol team. “What makes the difference is exposure to international events and how they perform in them. Anish knows how to maintain himself.”

By October, he was in the senior squad that was to compete at the Commonwealth Championships in Brisbane – his first senior international event. He finished with a silver.

“The way he’s getting things done at his age, he just needs to keep up the pace,” Rana adds. For all his potential in shooting, the sport was simply supposed to be a component of modern pentathlon rather than an individual concept. Hailing from a family with no sporting background, Bhanwala was a recreational swimmer before being advised to take up the ‘upcoming’ modern pentathlon. He struggled in the other events, but was a natural at the 10 m air pistol.

That talent was soon spotted by 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Harpreet Singh, under whose tutelage Bhanwala shifted to the 25 m rapid fire event. “Distance badh gaya, lekin target bada bhi ho gaya. So it was quite easy to shift,” says Bhanwala, who later shifted to Delhi to avail of the better facilities.

Six months after he started shooting, his elder sister Muskan (16) too took up the sport and has also made it to senior international events. But greater things are expected from Anish. And he has the right mindset to push himself to greater heights.

“He’s composed and grounded and doesn’t react too much. Technically, he gets that mixture of aggression and calmness right for the rapid fire,” Rana says. Before events, Bhanwala doesn’t recall feeling any stress either. “Bilkul bhi nahi!” he asserts. “Khelna tha, to khel liya.”

There was some pressure during the national championships in December though, but only because a spot in the selection trials for the Commonwealth Games were on offer. “I needed to do well in the nationals, so I was a bit anxious,” he says. “I knew I had trained well, but wanted to put it in practice. That’s what I did.”
Now that he’s topped the trials, there’s a goal – trying to set the world record. “Now I can do it where it counts.”

Full Squad:

Men – 50m Rifle 3 Position: Sanjeev Rajput, Chain Singh 50m Rifle Prone: Chain Singh, Gagan Narang; 10m Air Rifle: Ravi Kumar, Deepak Kumar; 25m Rapid Fire Pistol: Anish, Neeraj Kumar; 50m Free Pistol: Jitu Rai, Om Prakash Mitharwal; 10m Air Pistol: Jitu Rai, Om Prakash Mitharwal; Trap: Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Kynan Chenai; Double Trap: Mohd Asab, Ankur Mittal; Skeet: Smit Singh, Sheeraj Sheikh

Women- 50m Rifle 3 Position: Anjum Moudgil, Tejaswini Sawant; 50m Rifle Prone: Anjum Moudgil, Tejaswini Sawant; 10m Air Rifle: Apurvi Chandela, Mehuli Ghosh; 25m Sports Pistol: Heena Sidhu, Annuraj Singh; 10m Air Pistol: Heena Sidhu, Manu Bhaker; Trap: Shreyasi Singh, Seema Tomar; Double Trap: Shreyasi Singh, Varsha Varman; Skeet: Saniya Sheikh, Maheshwari Chauhan.

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