India enjoys regular entries in Archery at the Olympics off-late, however, the results are nothing to boast of. Even as we brace up for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the athletes with bow and arrows will board the flight with a lot of expectations, with at least a medal expected in the return flight.
If any discipline can be deemed as a regular underperformer at the Olympics - for India - then Archery would claim the title hands down. India’s first appearance in Archery at the 1988 Seoul Games was marked by early exits, but it was a path breaker nonetheless. Gradual progression in the discipline simultaneously invited expectations at multi-sport events, especially the Olympics. Even though medals at the Asian Games came by, the Olympics were proving too far-fetched.
For instance, the Archery squad at the 2016 Rio Olympics boasted of World Champions, immediately stamping them as medal prospects. Contrary to all projections, a quarter-final finish for the women’s recurve team was the best inference from the event, with individual competitors all perishing by the round-of-16. Another four years wait and the situation is similar. A strong contingent awaits participation. Can India finally break the jinx?
However, India still may still not field its full-strength squad. Thanks to the travel restrictions, which has robbed the women’s recurve team a shot at qualification to the quadrennial event when they were denied visas for the World Cup Stage II in Switzerland. With roughly two months left for the show to begin, we can expect the 11th-hour drama to unfold anytime, with the AFI (Archery Federation of India) pushing hard to inflate the contingent.
For now, four Archers have secured qualification for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics -
Atanu Das (Men’s recurve individual, Men’s recurve team)
The Archer from Kolkata started his career at the age of 14, moving to the Tata Archery Academy four years later, in 2008, to train under Korean coach Lim Chae Wong. Breaking into the scene with a silver medal at the 2011 World Youth Championships was the only push he needed. However, the bronze-medal finish alongside Deepika Kumari in the mixed team event at the 2013 World Cup was when everyone took note of the young lad. Since then, it has been one-way traffic.
With loads of experience, Atanu is expected to storm the range in Tokyo, putting rest to the haunts of Rio, where he crashed to a round-of-16 defeat. The top podium finish at the 2021 Archery World Cup in Guatemala City, a few months before the Tokyo showdown, is likely to set the tone for the Olympics. Apart from the individual commitment, he is also a part of the men’s team event alongside Tarundeep Rai and Pravin Jadhav.
Tarundeep Rai (Men’s recurve individual, Men’s recurve team)
The veteran who has been among the thick and thin of Indian archery for the past 15 years, is set to appear in his third Olympics. At the age of 19, back in 2003, the Sikkim-based athlete made his international debut, which led him to appear at the 2004 Athens Olympics. In spite of the spark, his outings at the 2004 and 2012 (London Olympics) Games failed to reflect his mighty potential. That was hardly the end of the road for him.
At 37, still going strong with the bow and arrow, Tarundeep is set to throw the last dice in his quest for an Olympic medal. The Archer is already a trendsetter, having claimed the first-ever silver medal at the Asian Games by an Indian, back in 2010, in Guangzhou. Signing off with a medal in what is expected to be his last major event will serve as a fitting epilogue to a 24-year-long illustrious career.
Pravin Jadhav (Men’s recurve individual, Men’s recurve team)
One of the relatively younger products in the circuit, Pravin’s entry into the foray was back in 2016 when he represented India at the 2016 World Cup in Bangkok. It was in the same event that he claimed a bronze medal in the men’s recurve team event. But, his career highlight still remains the appearance in the final at the 2019 World Championships, in the team event.
Pravin, who spent most of his lockdown days at the Army Sports Institute, in Pune, will be featuring in both men’s individual as well as the team event at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The 24-year old finished at the 15th spot in the 2021 World Cup Stage I in Guatemala City, which is not the best of displays. But with two months left for the Games to begin, there’s ample time to get in the best shape possible.
Deepika Kumari (Women’s recurve individual)
The most successful Indian archer in the past decade, Deepika Kumari has made headlines more often than not across his trophy-laden career. Her claim to fame arrived at the 2010 Commonwealth Games where she finished with two gold medals – individual and team events. Two years later, Deepika stormed to her first World Cup triumph and would also go on to become the top-ranked player in the world. That, unfortunately, did not have a huge impact on her display at the 2012 London Olympics, where she was shown the door in the opening round.
A couple of underachieved results at the mega-events (2012 and 2016 Olympics) can hardly justify the player she is, which is the reason why the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympics will serve as a real acid test for Deepika. It’s a hurdle that the current world no. 3 needs to overcome to establish herself as India’s greatest ever Archer. A couple of gold medals at the 2021 World Cup I in Guatemala City would definitely lift her confidence in the build-up to the Games.