Atanu Das in action. (Getty Images) Exclusive
Atanu Das in action. (Getty Images)

Mindset and marriage, the keys to success for Atanu Das

  • The wait for his first individual World Cup gold over, archer says he is on the right track for Tokyo Olympics.
By Rutvick Mehta, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAY 14, 2021 12:18 PM IST

“Only the mindset. Only the mindset,” Atanu Das says it twice, almost to hammer the point, while speaking about the biggest change that has led to him wrapping hands around an elusive individual medal at the world stage.

Last weekend, the 29-year-old Indian archer won the men’s recurve gold at the Archery World Cup Stage 1 in Guatemala City, his first individual World Cup medal. It came after a bronze in the mixed team event with Ankita Bhakat.

Unlike his partner-turned-wife Deepika Kumari whose first World Cup success was in 2012 at the age of 17, Das has had to endure his fair share of near-misses and failures. He had previously won World Cup and World Championships medals only in team events, apart from an individual bronze at the 2019 Asian Archery Championships. Before his medal-winning effort in Guatemala City, the closest Das came to an individual World Cup medal was a fourth-place finish at the 2016 edition in Antalya. The 2016 Rio Olympics too saw him crash out in the pre-quarter-finals after a close contest with Korea’s Seungyun Lee.

Das’s maiden Olympics outing taught him aplenty, none more crucial than the need to work on the mental part of his game.

“I learnt so many things from that 2016 Rio Olympics loss. But the most important lesson was that mindset is everything - how I think before a match, how my thoughts flow during the match and how I handle them at that particular moment. That is the key. I’ve been only working on my mindset for the last three years," said Das, speaking from Pune after returning from Guatemala City.

In the World Cup Stage 1 final against Spain’s Daniel Castro, Das was trailing 2-4 before he restored parity in the fourth set. In the deciding fifth set, Das kept his composure to shoot a perfect 30 from his three shots, taking the game away from his opponent even before the Spaniard could load the arrow for his last shot (Castro shot a 9 and 10 in his first two attempts).

Das has been training his mind for exactly these kinds of nerve-testing days and moments, with assistance from a sports psychologist working with India’s archery team as well as inspiring words from shooting legend Abhinav Bindra.

“Like Abhinav Bindra says, train every day like it is the Olympics. That’s how I train now," Das said. "Each day that I train, I think about how I’m going control myself, keep a steady mindset and handle any situation. Even in practice, I think like I’m playing a tournament. And that the next shot is very important. When you constantly train your mind that way, it helps."

Has marriage too? “In my case, I can definitely say yes. It seems to be working!” Das said with a laugh.

Das and Kumari tied the knot last June after almost two years of being engaged. The couple had initially planned their marriage after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but with the Games' year-long postponement and sporting events halted, the duo decided to bring forward the ceremony amid the pandemic. As a post-wedding bash, both struck gold in their first international outing as a couple; Kumari winning the women’s individual (her third World Cup gold) and team events in Guatemala City.

Das said their dynamics as a couple haven’t changed much even after the marriage tag: the two still talk about their respective games daily, assist each other in problem solving and engage in a “len-den (give and take)” system of motivating and helping each other.

“We help each other every day, and not just during tournaments. In tournaments, we know we can’t be there for each other too much because we have our own jobs to focus on. But we discuss about our games daily - we share our problems, work on it and sort it out. It benefits us immensely as a couple,” Das said.

“I would often ask her, “How does it feel to win medals at that stage?” She always told me that you will win too; you will get that opportunity at some point. And then, you will make it count,” he added.

Das did, in just his first international tournament in almost two years. Having last competed at the Asian Championships in November 2019, Das - as the rest of the Indian archers - spent a majority of the last six months at the Army Sports Institute in Pune, participating in national camps and Olympic selection trials. “It’s the first time in my career that I went through such a long gap. I was excited to play for India again, but also a bit nervous because I hadn’t competed in such a long time. And I ended up with my first individual World Cup medal, which is always special,” he said.

Das believes the medal has proved that he is on the right track in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics, for which he has been named along with Tarundeep Rai and Pravin Jadhav in India’s men’s recurve squad. The World Cup Stage 3 in Paris next month - the Indian contingent was forced to pull out of the Stage 2 in Lausanne from May 17 after Switzerland refused short-term visas due to the current travel restrictions on Indians - will present him with another opportunity to upgrade further, as Das termed it, before heading to Tokyo.

However, he would like to keep his expectations in check, another lesson that his previous disappointments have taught him.

“I don’t expect too much now. I have learnt from my past failures that expectations are not good. I know I have to work; I know we have to perform in Tokyo. But at the same time, we must stay in the present and train in the present. That’s how I can go with a right frame of mind in a big event like the Olympics,” he said.

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