It’s been almost two decades since Dola Banerjee won her first medal at the national level, as a sub-junior. Still going strong at 30, this is the fourth generation of archers she now competes with. But Dola continues to be India’s best bet for a medal and is the favourite to win in the women’s individual recurve bow section at the Commonwealth Games.
In the team event too, ‘Dola didi’ is a tower of strength for youngsters L. Bombayla Devi and 2009 cadet world champion Deepika Kumari.
So what makes Dola go on and on, especially in a sport where recognition is hard to come by? “Discipline,” she says. “Focus,” says national coach Limba Ram. “Exceptional patience and composure,” says her father Ashok, a regular at the practice ground at the SAI Eastern Centre in Salt Lake.
For Dola, irrespective of whether there is a national camp or whether India are preparing for an international event, four to six hours at the training ground is part of her daily routine. “I did not come out of an academy,” she points out.
“Ever since I was 10, I have been shooting arrows at our local club. It was only when I moved to Jamshedpur 10 years later and became a cadet at the Tata Archery Academy that I became familiar with different aspects of training. So what happened was the new training schedule just got added to my own way of preparing myself,” says Dola, the only Indian to win a World Cup Grand Final, in Dubai in 2007 when she beat the toppers of the four legs of the World Cup.
“Preparations for the Commonwealth Games have been good so far. The only problem is the excessive heat and humidity here.So, even when an archer wants to prolong training, he or she can’t. We cannot begin the afternoon session before 3:30. And by 5:30, the light starts to fade,” she says.
The archers hit the ground at 6am for 30 minutes of physical training, which is followed by five hours of shooting with a break in between.
The afternoon session begins at 3.30 and ends at 6.30. The Indian team will leave for the fourth World Cup in Shanghai on Saturday (August 28), the last event before the Commonwealth Games. The squad is likely to move to the Capital on September 23 once the Games Village opens.
“We will have 10 to 12 days before the competition starts and I think it will give us enough time to acclimatise. We dominated the test event at the Yamuna Sports Complex (in Delhi) and are confident of doing well. The venue is very windy and the trick would be to wait for the right moment of release,” says Dola.
India will face stiff challenge from England, Australia, Canada and Malaysia.
Name: Dola Banerjee
Born: June 2, 1980 in Baranagar, Kolkata
Started: Archery at the age of 10
Achievements: First Indian woman to qualify for Olympics (Athens 2004)
• Won the Golden Arrow in Antalya, Turkey in 2005
• Won gold at the European GP in 2005
• First woman archer to win Arjuna Award in 2005
• Only Indian to win the Grand Final of World Cup in Dubai in 2007