Manish Narwal has a lot in common with compatriot, able-bodied shooter Abhinav Bindra, the first Indian to win an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games.
Just like Bindra, Narwal is a shooter. But he competes with a pistol unlike Bindra, who won a gold medal in 10m air rifle event at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Like Bindra, Narwal comes from a family that is ready to invest in his abilities. Like Bindra, Narwal is taciturn and brooding, and very focused on his sport. He also achieved success early, setting a world record and winning medals in his teens. Both have their own shooting range at home so that they can practice their trade come what may.
On Saturday, Narwal also obliterated the lone anomaly between them — a gold medal at the Olympics — by winning gold in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, the quadrennial extravaganza that is the pinnacle of their sport.
Narwal, 20, is the world record holder in P4 – Mixed 50m Pistol SH1 and on Saturday proved his strength by winning the gold in the event at the Asaka Shooting Range.
Narwal shot a Paralympic record 218 in the final while Singhraj, who had won a bronze medal in the 10m Air Pistol SH1 earlier this week, finished second with a score of 216.7. Sergey Malyshev of the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) took bronze with a score of 196.8.
The 19-year-old Narwal had qualified seventh while Singhraj was fourth going into the final but both the Indians shot brilliantly, holding their nerves to surge to the top of the list. Narwal is the world record holder in the final, set at Al Ain, UAE, in March this year.
While everybody will be hailing Narwal for his triumph, not many know that shooting was not his first choice sport. Narwal is a football fanatic and had even started playing for a team.
But his father, on a suggestion by a friend, asked Narwal, who has a congenital impairment in his right hand, to consider an individual sport as he wanted to protect his son from getting blamed for mistakes in the team atmosphere because of his impairment.
“My father suggested that I take up shooting as it suited my temperament and after I tried it, I liked shooting and decided to pursue it,” Narwal said. “He said in an individual sport, I will be the master of my own fate and won’t have to take responsibility for anyone’s mistakes,” said Narwal.
His father took him to the 1OX Shooting Academy in Ballabhgarh to train under coach Rakesh Thakur and Narwal soon made his mark at the national level. His talent was spotted by JP Nautiyal, the High-Performance director of the Indian para-shooting team and there was no looking back for Narwal.
The suggestion proved right for Narwal as he soon found his groove and had a meteoric rise in the sport, winning medals soon.
“I owe my success in this sporting success to my father as he not only helped me make the decision but also helped me pursue it with single-minded zeal. He always inspires me with his words and actions,” said Narwal. His family moved from Faridabad to Ballabhgarh to allow Narwal to pursue shooting.
He was selected for the 2017 Bangkok World Cup where he won the Individual Gold Medal in P1 – 1Om Air Pistol Men SH1 with a Junior World Record, both in Qualification and Final.
He won three gold medals in Pl (Individual and Team) and P4 Team and bronze in P4 at the 2018 World Cup at Chateauroux, France. He announced his arrival by winning gold at the 2018 Asian Para Games in the P1 (men’s 10m air pistol SH1) and also captured silver in the P4 (mixed 50m pistol SH1).
In 2019, Narwal won three gold medals in P1, P4, and P6 Team events and a silver medal in P1 Individual at the 2019 World Shooting Para Cup, Osijek, Croatia.
And early this year, he won the gold medal in P4 Mixed 50m pistol SH1 event at the Al Ain 2021 World Shooting Para Sport World Cup in March, setting a world record score of 229.1.
Narwal, the Sydney 2019 World Championship bronze medallist, overcame a competitive field that included Paralympic and world champions Iran’s Sareh Javanmardi and Ukraine’s Oleksii Denysiuk, to win the P4 (mixed 50m pistol SH1) event. The Indian finished with 229.1 points, enough to break the previous world record of Serbia’s Rastko Jokic (228.6) set in 2019.
He did face a setback in Tokyo as he finished seventh despite topping the qualifying round in the P1-10m Air Pistol SH1 event.
But by winning the gold medal in the P4-Mixed 50m Air Pistol SH1, Narwal has proved why he is considered part of para shooting sport’s new generation of young stars.