Deepika Kumari | 4 years after that windy day in London, Rio offers redemption

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Deepika Kumari | 4 years after that windy day in London, Rio offers redemption

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Amlan Majumdar

07/27/2016

Success is much, much more than just proving others wrong. However, human nature almost unconsciously makes us crave for acceptance. Seven years back, Deepika Kumari's father, Shiv Charan Prajapati, told the media, “I was wrong. I underestimated her. She has proved her point,” after she won the Cadet World Championship title in 2009. It was not a moment of triumph for the Indian archer. There was no elation in proving her father wrong. Only delight at finally being accepted by her parents for who she was.

There was no elation in proving her father wrong. Only delight at finally being accepted by her parents for who she was.

She was not the brightest student in the school; she scored average marks. Deepika was particularly weak in mathematics. In fact, she was one of those students who would go largely unnoticed in her classes. However, her one aspect that always stood out, and grabbed people's attention, was her ability to aim at mangoes in her school campus, or in her village—Ratu Chati.

Her village was located 15 kms away from Ranchi. Like most in that village, she belonged to a financially handicapped family. In such a family, where her father, an autorickshaw driver, and her mother, a nurse in a health centre at Ranchi, had to feed three kids—Deepika was the elder of three sisters—the gift of marksmanship is expected to bring down the occasional mango. It is certainly not meant to be taken up as a profession.

However, Deepika was not to be slaked by just mangoes and stones, or the bamboo bows and arrows she made for herself. She was destined for bigger things, despite her family's resistance.

“My family were not very keen on my taking up the sport professionally. My mother is very conservative and even my father was dead against my decision,” she said in an interview to ToI back in 2010.

Talents like her cannot be subdued for too long, especially when it is backed by determination. At the age of 11, scouts from the Arjun Archery Academy, an institute set up by Meera Munda—wife of the then Jharkhand Chief Minister—were amazed by the potential Deepika showed. She was soon enrolled in the academy, and just one year later, she moved to the Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur despite opposition from her family.

Her move to Jamshedpur changed her life for ever. For the first time, She got to practice with professional sports gears, and even managed to earn a stipend of Rs. 500 per month. Deepika had everything she had hoped for, except the big gaping hole left by her family.

She was determined though. Determined to return to her home only when she had succeeded. She had to wait three years for it, but it was worth the wait. In 2009, she went to Otah in the US and became India's first archery world champion in the cadet (U-16) section, and she finally returned home to a warm reception.

Just a year later, she would go on to win two gold medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi at the age of 16, and it led to a carnival at her village. As the news of her feat spread across her neighborhood, people flooded the street and celebrated like there was no tomorrow. Sweets were distributed, crackers were exhausted, and the little girl, whose family could not financially afford her interest in archery, was awarded Rs 10 lakh by the Chief Minister of Jharkhand.

“We are extremely happy today. We took out a procession to celebrate Deepika’s victory till Ratu market. We are planning to take out another one in the evening.

“We are now waiting for dusk to burst more crackers so that people from far-off villages can see them. This is just the beginning. We will continue to celebrate till the 2012 Olympics, where Deepika will surely win gold,” he declared,” a local resident, Alok Sahu, who runs a cement shop, told Telegraph.

Deepika's father took part in the celebrations as well. Time and success of her daughter had mellowed him down. Her mother was also seen recalling her daughter's talent to aim at mangoes in the trees. And as Alok Sahu had said, they were preparing for an even bigger celebration, when their girl would win a medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

There was certain cause for the optimism. By the time Deepika went to London, she was the World No.1, and she seemed to be in awe-inspiring form. A medal looked like a formality, and hoping for a gold did not seem outrageous as well. Very few times in the history of Olympics has any Indian been seen as the favorite in a discipline. India's hockey team had that aura in the past, but that is a team sport.

But sports remains one of the greatest levelers. Deepika had been on the right side of that trait till her visit to London, and she soon witnessed the other side of the spectrum as well.

But sports remains one of the greatest levelers. Deepika had been on the right side of that trait till her visit to London, and she soon witnessed the other side of the spectrum as well.

It started with a fever, and ended with the wind. A viral fever affected the archery team, and Deepika fell under its grip as well. She failed to recover by the time she took to the court against Great Britain's Amy Oliver in the opening round. Apart from combating her illness, Deepika also had to battle against the strong wind blowing across the field. Her opponent was right at home in that weather, and she ended up with a one-sided win. Deepika's exit capped off an embarrassing outing by the archery teams, men and women, after all the hype at the start of the Games.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the London Games. After failing to make the cut for the Shanghai squad in 2014, she has slowly fought her way back. It is easy to forget that she is still only 22 - so much has she gone through already.

As we head into the Rio Olympics, once again a lot of hype and expectation follows her. Back in April, she equaled Ki Bo-bae's world record of scoring 686, out of 720, at the first stage of the World Cup in Shanghai—where she failed to even make the squad two years back.

India are sending a record number of athletes in this year's Olympics, and the best hope of a medal remains archery. Perhaps the 2012 Olympics came a bit too early in her career, she was just 18 back then. Perhaps 2016 will finally see her fulfilling her potential.

It is summer in Brazil, and the famous Haden mangoes out there are just about ripe, and remember what Deepika's school headmaster said? “She never misses”.

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