Tokyo 2020: Atanu Das shows nerves of steel to defeat ex-Olympic archery champ
- The biggest spark came from Atanu, whose dramatic face-off with Oh Jin Hyek took him to the last-16.
Atanu Das’s heart was racing, but you could not tell that from his demeanour. He had one shot to beat a two-time Olympic gold medallist (the 2012 individual gold and the team gold here just a few days back), Oh Jin Hyek.
Hyek had the luxury of going first in the single arrow tie-breaker. He shot a 9. Das had just one possibility for a win, a bullseye 10. Beads of sweat formed on his face as he pulled on the bowstring on a hot and humid day at the Yumenoshima Park Archery Field. To make matters trickier, there was a light breeze that swirled around the range.
Das held on to the drawn bowstring for longer than he usually does. He wobbled, or so it seemed. Then the arrow flew and landed.
It was a 10.
It was a moment that aptly summed up a turnaround in India’s performance at the Tokyo Olympics with more athletes stepping into contention as the first week of competition started to wind down. There were no medals on offer for the Indians in competition on the sixth day of competition in Tokyo 2020, but it was a day to remember for the thrills it provided, for the fighting wins from many of the Indians in action, and for the hope it raised for the days to follow.
PV Sindhu wrapped up her Round of 16 match against world No 12 Mia Blichfeldt in straight sets, dominating the match and pulling out an array of cross-court backhands, smashes and drop shots. India’s first superheavyweight boxer, Satish Kumar, put himself one win away from a medal with a powerful win in his first match to move into the quarterfinal. And the Indian hockey team managed to script a remarkable turnaround by defeating the 2016 Olympic champions Argentina 3-1, and qualifying for the quarterfinals just four days after they had been hammered 7-1 by Australia.
There was also loss, but it came with its own slice of history as the legendary Mary Kom, six-time world champion and London Olympic bronze medallist, bowed out in the Round of 16 in a closely contested match. This was her last Olympics and possibly the last fight of her career.
The biggest spark came from Atanu, whose dramatic face-off with Oh Jin Hyek took him to the last-16.
“There is pressure in every match in the Olympics,” Das said. “Obviously I was tense. I was banking on my mind, not my heart. I simply focused and tried to go through the situation.”
Das’s morning started brightly with a relatively comfortable 6-4 win against Chinese Taipei’s Deng Yu-Cheng.
It was a change from the way the Games have gone so far for him. In the ranking round on July 23, he finished a lowly 35, which meant the higher ranked Pravin Jadhav was fielded instead of him with Deepika Kumari in the mixed team event.
Against Jin Hyek, Das lost the first set, shooting two 8s and a 9 to the South Korea’s two 9s and a 8.
World No 1 Kumari, who is also his wife, shouted out encouragement and instructions from the stands. “I could hear her voice from behind me all the time,” Das said, flashing two rings, his wedding band and a gold ring in the shape of the Olympic symbol. “Pushing me all the while, telling me to be myself, that I could do it, to stay calm.”
In the next two sets, every arrow from Das fetched a 9. Jin Hyek kept pace. Then came the fourth set, where Das’s opponent slipped to a six. Das pounced on the rare error, producing a 10 in reply to take the set. In the fifth, a nerve-wracking set, the two archers scored in lock-step: 10, 9, 9.
Das felt that his sight needed slight recalibration. After a quick chat with coach Mim Gurung, the sight was adjusted. It worked.
“We saw that all three of his last shots were closer to 10s, one just touched the 10, but we wanted to be more accurate, so that the shoot-off arrow can hit the inner 10,” said Gurung.
During the shoot-off, Das drew strength from the fact that he had been in this situation before, against the same opponent, at the 2019 Asian Archery Championship. There, in the bronze medal match, Das had managed an X (the inner circle of 10) to Jin Hyek’s 10 in the tie breaker.
“The situation in a match changes rapidly and those who can handle that well, can move forward,” Das said. “I kept my nerves.”
Das will have another challenge on his hands against London Games silver medallist Takaharu Furukawa of Japan on July 31.
Kumari goes up against Perova Ksenia of Russian Olympic Committee in the Round of 16 on Friday.