Anish Bhanwala’s breakthrough: Young shooter wins first senior World Cup medal in Cairo

After winning the bronze medal in the men’s 25m Rapid Fire Pistol final in the ISSF World Cup in Cairo on Thursday afternoon, 20-year-old Anish Bhanwala was in for a pleasant surprise. Rio Olympic champion Christian Reitz of Germany, the shooter Bhanwala had edged out for the bronze medal, came over and spoke to him. Bhanwala admitted the short chat with the 35-year-old German was a fan-boy moment.

“For any young shooter Christian Reitz remains an idol. To win my first senior World Cup medal ahead of him is a special feeling. I will always remember this medal for his appreciation post the medal ceremony. There was pressure during ranking as well as the medal match. But to win the medal here at Cairo, in tough conditions… I see it as a new phase in my career,” Bhanwala told The Indian Express from Cairo

One of the biggest takeaways from the World Cup for Bhanwala is how he performed when under the cosh. The bronze was also his first senior World Cup medal.

“I had competed against Reitz and others in two tournaments in Europe last year and that held me in good stead today. When Reitz shot a perfect series, I just wanted to enjoy my shooting and the perfect five came at the right time for me,” Bhanwala said.

He has taken some time to win his first senior World Cup medal.

Bhanwala’s talent came to notice when he became the senior national champion in 2017. In the field that day was London Olympics silver medalist Kumar.

“When I became the national champion, his (Vijay Kumar’s) praise meant more than the gold medal for me. I understand I got early success at a young age and could not maintain my form in senior-level competition after the CWG games (2018),” Bhanwala admitted.

Bhanwala, whose father Jagpal Bhanwala owns farm land and is a lawyer in Gohana, started off as a pentathlon shooter before he switched to pistol events under the guidance of 2014 CWG silver medal-winning shooter Harpreet Singh, who also happens to be his neighbour.

Post the national title in 2017, Bhanwala was seen as the next big shooter to emerge in the event. He had titles to back his talent. He won junior world titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019. He also became India’s youngest medal-winner at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast with a final record of 30 shots.

However, he missed the Tokyo Olympics bus.

A fifth place in the ISSF World Cup in Delhi in 2021 meant that he couldn’t bag a Tokyo Olympics quota through world rankings. “When I missed the medal in the Delhi World Cup, I knew I was not ready for the Tokyo Olympics,” Bhanwala said.

Post the Olympics, Bhanwala spent some time with his mentor and coach Harpreet at the Dr Karni Singh Range in New Delhi. Harpreet emphasised on going back to the basics during training sessions.

“His main strength has been his retention power and there are moments when he remembers one particular thing from a training session 3-4 years ago and tells me to work on it. Post the Delhi World Cup, we worked on making his head position more stable apart from spending some time on getting his pistol lift better along with his posture,” Harpreet said.

On Thursday, Bhanwala finished seventh in qualification with one shooter not eligible for the ranking match. His seventh-place finish meant that he shot in the second relay, comprising second-placed Matej Rampula of Czech Republic, Yan Chesnel of France and Massimo Spinella of Italy. Bhanwala shot a score of 12 after the end of the fourth series and was tied with Chesnel for the second spot. In the first shoot-off, Bhanwala and Chesnel shot three points each before both tied again with four points each in the second shoot-off.

In the third shoot-off, Bhawala shot four points while Chisnel shot two to hand the Indian a spot in the medal match. With Reitz and Clement Bessaguet of France qualifying from the first relay, Bhanwala started the medal round with a perfect series of five to lead. The second series saw him missing three shots (a score above 9.7 is counted as a shot) and the youngster dropped to second. Having shot four in the third series, Bhanwala was in the lead along with Tokyo Olympics finalist Bessaguet at 11 points. With Reitz shooting a perfect 5 in the fourth series to be at 12 points and Bessaguet and Spienella at 20 and 19 respectively, Bhanwala needed to shoot a minimum of three shots to be assured of a medal ahead of Reitz. The youngster shot a perfect series of five to assure himself of a medal before bowing out in the next series.

India’s foreign pistol coach and two-time Olympic medallist Munkhbyar Dorjsuren was watching the final in the coach’s corner and counts this medal as an important one for the youngster. “Anish is a very humble shooter and eager to learn. He has good potential and he displayed that today. It’s an important medal for him and a confirmation of his talent in such a strong field,” said the six-time Olympian coach.

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