Deepika Kumari believed she could bring laurels to the nation through archery. Her father, Shiv Charan Prajapati, an autorickshaw driver by profession, felt she was living in a fool’s paradise. There was hardly any encouragement from her mother Geeta who worked as a group D staff at the Ranchi Medical College. But Deepika’s pursuit of archery and the recognition and money she earned from the sport, changed the family’s way of living.
Laxmi Rani Majhi was a student of a government school in Bagula on the West Bengal-Jharkhand border when national coach Dharmender Tiwary scouted her. She is the daughter of a coal mine worker and archery was her means to an end to hardship.
Laishram Bombayla Devi came into archery mainly because her mother M Jamini Devi is an archery coach and partly because she felt the idea of playing with a bow and arrows was fun.
Together, the three form the India women’s archery team for the Rio Olympics, having qualified through a silver-medal winning show at the World Championships in Copenhagen last year.
Both Deepika and Bombayla have Olympic experience; they were part of the London Games squad. This will be Bombayla’s third Olympics. Majhi, a reasonably known face on the circuit, will be at her first Games.
Where’s the vision?
The federation believes the women’s archery team should fetch India their first Olympic medal, given the form the team has been. Coaches too are rating the team highly. But India have sent stronger teams to Olympics in the past, and all of them failed to live up to the expectations.
Sample this. At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Limba Ram shot 336 out of a possible 360 in 70m which, if the rules of archery hadn’t changed for that edition of the Games, would have fetched him a silver medal.
After 24 years, India have not really come a long way. Scores have just about improved to the vicinity of 340 and that too only two or three archers achieve that. This is despite the manifold improvement in equipment, a lot more international exposure and an overall culture of having physios and mental strength developers working with the team.
Performance is still left to chance. At the Shanghai World Cup ranking round early this year, Deepika equalled the world record score of 686 out of 720 set by the reigning Olympic gold medallist Ki Bo Bae of South Korea. But the next day, she lost out in the quarterfinals.
Consistency is an issue and this is where the federation has failed to penetrate deep into our resources and create a pool of top level archers. Talents such as Limba were primarily despite the system. Talents such as World Cup Finals champion Dola Banerjee, Asian Games silver medallist Tarundeep Rai or cadet and youth world champion Deepika continue to pop up like flashes in the pan.
Once again, for India to do well in Rio, Deepika has to lead by example. India had a team in great touch for the London Olympics. But the preparations went for a toss after the entire team went down with a viral infection and fever.
This time, the federation has not taken any chances and sent the entire squad one month before the ranking round begins on August 5. The team has trained in Marica, and shifted to a hotel in Centro which is close to the archery venue in Sambodromo, in downtown Rio de Janeiro. The team will not stay in the Games Village because of its distance from the venue.
There is a possibility that some of the matches could be held under lights. Indian archers are used to night training which is generally meant to get their technique right. “But we have not really shot under lights. It could be difficult to track the flight of the arrow and make adjustments if you are not used to shooting under lights,” a member of the India team said before leaving for Rio.
Last man standing
Like in Beijing, the men’s team failed to qualify. Like in Beijing, Mangal Singh Champia had booked India a berth. But unlike eight years back, Champia will not represent India. He lost out to Atanu Das in the selection trials. “The selection process has been long and mentally exhausting. For a youngster like Atanu, qualifying for Rio itself looks like an achievement. It remains to be seen if he can put all that behind and perform,” a senior federation official said.
The author tweets as @NilankurDas
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