Student shooter Anish Bhanwala targets gold at Asian Games
Anish Bhanwala is already considered something of a golden boy in the Indian contingent for the Asian Games.
At 15 and still at high school, he was India’s youngest gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast in April when he won the 25-meter rapid fire pistol shooting event in a meet record.
He had to tone down the celebrations to study for exams, but he’s back on target in competition now as part of India’s 524-strong delegation for the Aug. 18-Sept. 2 Asiad in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta and Palembang.
Anish already has won a number of other international titles, including the ISSF Junior World Championship and the Commonwealth Shooting Championship last year and the ISSF Junior World Cup this year.
Anish comes from a middle-class family which didn’t have any background in the sport, but took an interest in shooting after starting to train for the multi-discipline modern pentathlon. His father bought him a second-hand pistol and his career took off from there. The youngster moved in 2014 from Haryana to settle in Delhi, where he has the best facilities for practice.
While Anish and another rising star, Manu Bhaker made the squad in pistol events, there were contentious selections with former World No. 1 Heena Sidhu missing some events, and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Gagan Narang missing out on the squad entirely.
India expects to pick up medals in the shooting, and is hoping for gold in field hockey, one of its traditionally powerful sports.
Skipper Rani Rampal is hoping her women’s hockey team can pick its first major games gold medal since the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Rani, who became the youngest to play for a senior India team when she made her debut at 13 in 2008, was inspired to play the game after watching the Bollywood movie Chak de India — made in 2007 and based on India’s gold medal in Manchester.
Since then, she has played an important role in India’s team, including its run to qualifying for Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, ending a 36-year absence.
The Indian women went close to a medal at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but lost to Australia in the semifinals and were edged by England in the bronze playoff.
“Since the time I made it to the Indian team, I wanted to replicate the 2002 Commonwealth Games performance,” Rani has said recently. “I know winning gold in the Asian Games will not be an easy task … top podium finish in Indonesia will give us a direct entry to 2020 Tokyo Olympics and it will be a help for us to prepare better for the Olympics.”
Compound archery is the other event in Jakarta where India is likely to dominate, having won all four events in the compound section when the category was introduced in Incheon four years ago.
“They have some experienced archers like Abhishek Verma and Rajat Chauhan but at the same time the youngsters also shot consistently. The level we reached was very high,” star Italian star archer Sergio Pagni, who has been working with the Indian archers since January, has been quoted as saying. “I’m really proud of this group, they are all world class. I am sure that they will come out with flying colors from the Games.”
Sushil Kumar has been waiting a long time for an Asian Games gold medal. He won bronze in 2006 but nothing at the regional meet since, despite winning a world title and picking up two Olympic medals. He won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in April in a promising return to competition and believes he can replicate his performance at Jakarta.
“I am in form now,” said Sushil, who is took silver in the 66-kilogram category at the London Olympics and will be competing in the 74-kilogram division in Indonesia. “I always think my competitor is neither big nor small, neither junior nor senior. Whoever is opposite me must always be good enough (to compete).”
Rio Olympics freestyle bronze medalist Sakshi Malik and Bajrang Punia, a silver medal winner in the Asian Games four years ago, are also contending for wrestling medals for India.
Badminton made its debut at the Asian Games when Jakarta last hosted the event in 1962. It is one of the sports in which India is expected to compete for medals against the regional heavyweights.
P. V. Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth are in the squad, and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Ashwini are India’s best bet in mixed doubles. They played the quarterfinals at the Worlds before being beaten by the top-seeded Chinese pair Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong.
While India is anticipating a rich haul of medals, neighboring Pakistan may struggle for medals at Jakarta.
Pakistan had to reduce its Asian Games contingent to 245 because of financial constraints of its government. The Pakistan Olympic Association also said that several athletes will be funded by their respective sports federations.
Wrestler Inam Butt, who won gold at the Commonwealth Games in April, was considered the country’s brightest prospect for gold but he pulled out because of a knee injury.
Sri Lanka last time won two medals at last Asian Games, both in cricket. But cricket isn’t on the competition program this time and the 185-member Sri Lankan contingent’s best hopes of medals are in boxing, weightlifting and golf.