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IANS Exclusive: Did Manu have a spare certified by 'weapons control' when her main gun malfunctioned?
New Delhi, July 30 - If only Manu Bhaker had a spare pistol cleared by 'weapons control', It wouldn't have taken more than two or three minutes for the 10m air pistol shooter to get back into the competition after her gun malfunctioned during the Qualification Round at the Tokyo Olympics on July 25.
This disturbing revelation was made by Tejinder Singh Dhillon, coach of Bhaker's Olympic teammate, world No. 1 shooter Yashaswini Singh Deswal. He clarified, though, that he was not present at the scene and was basing his assessment on what he had heard from reliable sources.
Dhillon was the National Selector for 18 years and held top posts in the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI). He has also served on the jury of several world cups and continental shooting championships around the world.
Bhaker's coach, Ronak Pandit, speaking from Tokyo, said in his defence that getting clearance from weapons control would have taken time, as it involved going to a separate area in the range.
"Replacing the grip (on the spare pistol) was an option," Pandit admitted, but clarified: "Manu was shooting exceptionally well with the original pistol, so we decided to repair it. We didn't know whether she would be comfortable with the changed gun because minor adjustments (clicks) are required in spare guns to hit perfect scores."
Pandit added: "Luck did not favour us on that particular day. After we had solved the (jammed) cocking lever issue, the electronic circuit got overheated and we had to again open the gun and change the electronic circuit altogether, which took another few minutes. Then the 'sighter targets' were not coming up on our firing station and we kept losing time. With the jury not willing to compensate for the lost time, I asked Manu to start shooting with the repaired pistol. We had to settle for the better of the two evils."
Was it bad luck or a bad judgment call? In his interview with IANS, Dhillon insisted it was a case of bad judgment. "In this (Manu Bhaker) case I am told that they did not have a second weapon approved by weapons control," he said. "I have heard this -- I was not there. But what I heard and what I came to know is that the second weapon was probably not ready. That's why they went for this (repair the malfunctioning pistol)."
Before shooters take part in a competition, they have to get their guns checked at weapons control and once the clearance is given, then can participate in a competition.
Dhillon's comments raise questions over whether Manu's second gun was ready for competition.
Going into the technical details, Dhillon said that had a spare gun been around, the grip of the malfunctioning pistol could have been removed and attached to the spare gun in a matter of two minutes.
"In such a situation, if I were with Yashaswini, I would have done this (removed the grip from the malfunctioning pistol and screw it on the spare pistol). Yashaswini also has two pistols; she has been trained to get both pistols cleared from 'weapon control'. You need to get the clearance of weapon control for both the guns (the first and the spare) before the competition," Dhillon said.
"It will not take more than two minutes. You only remove two screws and fix it (the grip) on the other pistol. It cannot take more than two minutes under any circumstances. Thereafter, you are authorised to go for the 'sighters'. And then they (the range jury) permit you the sighting time and no time gets wasted, and you don't lose competition time," said Dhillon, a former national-level shooter and a top-ranking former official of the para-military forces.
Pandit, Bhaker's coach, had earlier issued a statement from Tokyo, saying: "The cocking lever of the weapon broke after 16 shots. We had to get it changed. She had 44 shots remaining in 56 minutes and then when we started, it was 44 shots in 38 minutes."
Rebutting Pandit's defence, Dhillon said the cocking trigger cannot break. "It can loosen but not break," he insisted.
On July 25, Manu Bhaker, who was one of the favourites for a podium finish in the air pistol competition in Tokyo, had a weapon malfunction after the first series in the qualification round, which put paid to her hopes of making it to the finals. A lot of time was lost in repair (between 18-20 minutes) and when Manu returned, precious little time was left for her to complete her series, resulting in her hurrying the shot and shooting below-par scores.
"If pistols are of identical makes, it doesn't make a difference (whether one shoots with one's first gun or the spare). What makes the difference is the grip of the pistol. When we know that in 10m or 50m we are not going to get extra time, the best way out is to remove the two screws immediately, remove the grip and tighten it on the spare pistol; and then carry on with the sighter and the shooting," Dhillon said.
A 'sighter' is a few practice shots allowed to shooters to get their eyes focused after a malfunction.
"Manu is a great shooter and she had the capability of staging a comeback," Dhillon continued, adding: "I feel the country has been deprived of a medal because of this (the malfunction fiasco)."
Recalling a similar episode from his life, Dhillon said: "When I was on the jury at the Gabala (Azerbaijan) World Cup in 2017, there was this incident with Hungary's Istevan Peni, who is one of the best rifle shooters in the world. Peni was 19 years old then, and when he brought his rifle for the competition, the Chief Range Officer (CRO) informed me that the shooter was not to be allowed because he did not get the gun cleared by weapons control.
"I said to the CRO that we would allow him to compete provisionally and I informed Peni that when he finished the match, he should immediately go and get his gun checked at weapons control. Only then, I said to him, the scores would be recorded. In this (Manu Bhaker's) case, if the weapon was not passed, they could have asked the jury, 'OK, our (spare) weapon has not passed (but) we should be allowed to change the weapon and our result should be subject to clearance from 'weapons control' after the competition," Dhillon said.
Top former international 10m air pistol shooter Ingrid Gonesh of Aruba, who is now a coach, posted a message on social media after the Manu Bhaker pistol malfunction controversy, asking: "Why was it not an option to switch her (Manu) grip to a spare pistol?"
Dr Rajpal Singh, international shooter and father of former pistol shooter and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Vivek Singh, confirmed Dhillon's prognosis when said in a conversation with IANS: "It is a one minute's job. Had a spare pistol been there, she could have easily shot with it. I don't know whether she got her spare gun cleared by weapons control."
Another expert, Deep Bhatia, who is a former vice-president of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) and a qualified international shooting coach and judge, besides being the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games sports manager, also confirmed the general view on the malfunction episode: "It takes hardly two minutes to change the grip. To change the electronic circuit, too, it takes only two minutes. If the electronic circuit got damaged, then it could have been changed in a minute. Just put the new one in the slot ? top-level shooters carry spare circuits. (Manu) should have kept a spare circuit."
But, as Bhatia pointed out, there's still no clarity on the malfunction. "We are only getting conflicting news, whether it was an electronic circuit problem, or a cocking lever problem or both. Someone should issue a clarification on what exactly happened," Bhatia said.
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