A strong Indian contingent would be featuring at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, a few months later, with an aim to break India's jinx at the biggest sporting spectacle. There's no way the road ahead is rosy, but there's enough armoury in the arsenal to get through the obstacles and emerge victoriously.
Archery’s ascendance at the Olympics started at the 1972 Munich Games, with the discipline making a comeback after 52 years, following which it has been a mainstay at the quadrennial event. However, India came to the scene much later, during the 1988 Seoul Games, when Shyam Lal, Limba Ram and Sanjeev Singh represented the country in the men’s individual events as well as the team event. However, the Indians failed to get past the first hurdle in any of the events, making it a forgettable debut at the Games.
However, the scene at the domestic level has gradually climbed the upward curve, with the nation producing top-notch archers in the likes of Bombayla Devi, Dola Banerjee, Jayanta Talukdar, world champion Deepika Kumari, experienced campaigner Tarundeep Rai and latest sensation Atanu Das.
While their trophy cabinets are decorated with international honours, the coveted Olympic medal has eluded them to date. With India finishing as the best performing nation at the recently concluded World Cup Stage I, it’s time for the country to break the jinx at the greatest sporting spectacle.
Deepika Kumari, arguably India’s greatest ever archer, has swept away regular medals at the World Cups since 2011, across individual and team events. The Ranchi-based athlete’s sky-rocketing records in 2011 and 2012 earned her instant recognition, with her entering the 2012 London Olympics as the world no. 1 archer. Might be stage fright, adverse wind conditions or an ailing fever, Kumari’s first-round exit was the least everyone had expected when she was shown the door by local Amy Oliver.
Lightning struck twice as the archer, also in contention for honours at the 2016 Rio Games, was ousted in the round-of-16 after breezing past an opening couple of rounds. The hopes of a billion went down the drain once again. But she’s a learner and has developed her game leaps and bounds during the past few years, with special stress on the mental aspects, which according to her holds the key in Archery.
The astronomical change in her attitude, ability to handle pressure was clearly visible during the recently concluded World Cup Stage I, where she claimed a Gold medal in the individual category as well as the team event.
As far as the women’s team is concerned, the likes of Anikta Bhakat and Komalika Bari have been phenomenal and complemented their star teammate – Deepika Kumari to the core. The trio also claimed a top-podium finish in Guatemala City, last week. But the Indians are yet to qualify as a team in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, even though they still have hopes of doing the same.
If the women’s team manage to make the cut, the chances of scripting India’s first medal at the Games gets enhanced further. At the end of it, Deepika Kumari will be pivotal to each of the above-mentioned cases.
Atanu Das, who tied the knot with Deepika Kumari last year and one of the top Indian archers in the recent past, had also raised hopes during the previous edition of the Olympics, but eventually took an exit route in the round-of-16 as well. Incidentally, the athlete’s graph has shown an upward spiral as days progressed, with his career perfectly poised to peak at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
The indoor training along with his spouse during the lockdown, coupled with sessions with the psychologists, might have acted as a catalyst, with the star couple of Indian sports growing gradually in stature in the presence of one another. Whatever may be the case, the Indian contingent could be the biggest winner. The confluence of Indian top archers taking the game to the next level coinciding with the 2021 Tokyo Games makes the occasion different from other past editions.
Not even Jayanta Talukdar, the first Indian to win a medal at an Archery World Cup, was in the best version of himself when he represented India at the 2021 London Olympics. To add to it, leaving out Tarundeep Rai and Pravin Jadhav for good would also be inhuman, with the way the duo have been fared in the past year or so. Tarundeep Rai is a veteran of three Olympics and his story couldn’t script a better epilogue with an Olympic medal as a major highlight.
Undoubtedly, this is India’s best-ever Archery contingent at the Games, even if India fails to secure a medal. But it is high time the current crop brush away the past haunts and start the medal counter for the particular discipline at the stage where it matters the most. Moreover, Archery has the potential to bring regular medals for India at the Olympics, a recognition that has been achieved by Wrestling in the past three Games. But, for now, the eyes are on the Tokyo showdown, with the archers plucking the string for bulls-eye and Olympic glory.