With gold each, three young guns put India on top at World Cup Final

Nitin Sharma
(From left) Manu Bhaker, Divyansh Panwar and Elavenil Valarivan in Putian, China, Thursday. (NRAI)

From suppressing ankle pain to overcoming PUBG addiction — two teenage shooters and one who just turned 20 showed the world how prodigiously talented they are at the ISSF World Cup Final with a haul of three gold medals in a single day, an unprecedented achievement for the country at the year-end event where only the best get entry.

Divyansh Singh Panwar and Manu Bhaker, both 17, and 20-year-old Elavenil Valarivan scripted history for India and took the country to the top of the overall medals tally Thursday, surpassing hosts China. Divyansh (final score 250.1) and Elavenil (250.8) defeated their challengers by just 0.1 point to win their respective 10 metre air rifle finals.

Divyansh is the first since London Olympics bronze medalist Gagan Narang in 2008, and Elavenil since Anjali Bhagwat in 2003, to win gold medals in this event at the World Cup Final, where shooters qualify by accumulating points from four World Cups held through the year.

READ | Divyansh Singh Panwar: From Minimum to gold standard

Manu, meanwhile, broke the junior world record with a score of 244.7 to win the 10m air pistol event. For her, Thursday’s final was all about overcoming pain as she beat multiple World Cup gold medallist Zorana Arunovic of Serbia.

“She has been struggling with ankle pain for a year and wears insoles to deal with it. Standing for long hours while training for 10m air pistol and 25m pistol events makes it unbearable sometimes. Many questioned her when there was a dip in form, but she has shown the world she can win against the best,” her father Ram Krishan Bhaker, who is in the merchant navy, said.

Manu, who first hit headlines by becoming the junior world champion in Suhl, Germany, last year, had secured the 2020 Olympics quota for India with a fourth place in Munich World Cup in May.

Divyansh was hooked to Esports and was a PUBG addict. When he took up the sport of shooting at the Karni Singh Range in Delhi, the Jaipur-based teen had to be weaned away from the phone screen. In April this year, he booked an Olympic quota for India in the 10m air rifle.

READ | Manu Bhaker proves doubters wrong; Elavenil Valarivan underlines her potential

“Watching him shoot in the final made my heart skip a beat; the 0.1 margin was so narrow,” Divyansh’s father Ashok Panwar said. Though he has been able to stay away from online games, Divyansh is now watching re-runs of Mahabharata episodes first screened in the late 1980s. “He tells us he wants to be the Arjun of shooting,” Ashok said.

Elavenil dreamt of becoming a scientist like her father before the shooting bug bit her. She honed her skills at Narang’s Gun for Glory academy at Sanskardham School in Ahmedabad. Every time she wins a medal, her parents get her a pair of gold earrings. “We were following the final on YouTube. As soon as she won the gold,

I called up my husband and told him that Elavenil will again ask for earrings,” K Saroja, her mother, said.

Elavenil’s medal underlines the country’s strength in the women’s 10m air rifle — the world number 1, 2 and 3 are all Indians, with Elavenil placed third behind Apurvi Chandela and Anjum Moudgil. The gold will add intrigue to the team selection for the Tokyo Olympics where only two shooters are allowed per event. India have won a record 15 quotas for the Games, and the medal spree means they will enter the Olympic year as hot prospects.