Suhl: Even as the heady mist accompanying the gold medal he had just won in the men's 25m rapid fire pistol event at the Suhl Junior Shooting World Cup was settling down, Anish Bhanwala's thoughts were already drifting to Rio de Janeiro. It is there that the senior World Cup will be held in just over a month's time.
Anish, who is one of the several from the current crop of teenage shooters to have already cemented a spot for themselves in the senior Indian team, admitted that he had only come to Suhl for competition rather than winning a medal.
"I only came here because there was a lot of gap between the Munich World Cup and the Rio de Janeiro World Cup. I wanted a competition in between," the 16-year-old told Firstpost. "I think I shot well in the finals today and in qualification. 584 will get me to the final in a senior World Cup as well most of the times."
Anish, whose first international competition was incidentally the 2017 Suhl Junior World Cup, initially showed a lot of potential in non-Olympic events like the 25m standard pistol where he broke the junior world record. But since 2008, he's made a name for himself in the 25m rapid fire event which is in the Olympics. The gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the age of 15 was a testament to that.
"When I had started I was a very basic shooter in the rapid fire discipline. There was always a few points which would keep me from qualifying for the finals. It's slow but steady growth," he said.
Jaspal Rana, the chief national coach of India's junior pistol team, meanwhile said that the teenager now needs to make the leap to sealing a qualification spot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
"Now that he's in the senior team, he needs to work harder. In a few days, he will be competing at the Rio World Cup in the senior category, where he needs to earn a quota place. That will be his most important priority. This junior World Cup was not that important for him," said Rana.
Rana, who himself was a gold medallist at the Junior World Championships in 1994 before successfully transitioning into the senior level and winning a clutch of medals at the Asiad and the Commonwealth Games, added that junior shooters should not lose their focus with early success and the money being showered on them by state governments for medals.
"These youngsters have to be very careful because winning medals at the junior level is difficult, definitely. And Indian shooters are among the best at the junior level. But that's not good enough at the senior level. Once you're there, you have no option! You have to beat the best!"
On Wednesday, as 14-year-old Esha Singh (in women's 10m air pistol) and the 10m mixed air rifle combo of Shreya Agrawal and Yash Vardhan claimed silver medals, it was Anish was stood atop the podium with a peerless performance in the six-man final of the 25m rapid fire pistol event.
True to form, Anish wrested the lead after the first series and never let go until he had the gold medal dangling from his neck. His young compatriot in the finale, Agneya Kaushik was the first to get eliminated in the final, but contributed to India's burgeoning tally by combining with Rajkanwar Singh Sandhu and Udhayveer Sidhu for a team bronze medal. The third Indian in the final, Adarsh Singh, came agonisingly close to a medal but lost in a shoot-off. It was, in fact, the third shoot-off he had to compete in the final. He survived the first an elimination battle for the fifth spot. He survived the second as well, tying scores with Germany's Florian Peter to force the third one. In the third one, he was eliminated.
"This was Agneya's first-ever final at this stage. But that's what I'm saying: if Anish and other shooters are not watching out, gone! That's a good thing for the country: this second line of junior shooters who can replace you! Anish himself came into the senior team replacing guys like Vijay Kumar, who were one of the best. Now where are they?" said Jaspal.
The writer is in Germany as part of the Robert Bosch Media Ambassadors Program.