An administrative overhaul after more than four decades held out hope for the future, but Indian archery was largely in a downward spiral this year.
Deepika Kumari’s comeback and some good performances in the compound category mitigated the effect, however. In the compound section, the women’s team reached the pinnacle of world rankings for the first time in history. Twenty-two-year-old Jyothi Surekha Vennam led the way.
The Archery Association of India, de-recognised by the Sports Ministry in 2012, finally held its elections and former IAS officer B. V. P. Rao was elected president, ending Vijay Kumar Malhotra’s reign, which dated back to 1973. Subject to ratification by the Supreme Court, the outcome of the elections was a harbinger of hope for the sport that was facing the threat of being banned from the international arena.
It remains to be seen if the new setup heralds any concrete changes on the ground.
For the time being, without a national coach and regular training facilities, the recurve archers were using the Army’s facility in Pune under their respective personal trainers. This reflected in their performances as well and they drew a blank at the Asian Games.
A quarterfinal exit by Olympian Atanu Das was the recurve archers’ best in Jakarta, as four of them — Jagdish Chaudhary, Sukhchain Singh, Ankita Bhagat and Laxmirani Majhi — failed to qualify for the main round. Team events were considered their forte once upon a time but the Indians misfired there, too, finishing fifth, sixth and ninth in the women’s, men’s and mixed sections, respectively.
There were four World Cups and a World Cup Final, but Deepika was the lone bright spot for India in recurve archery. The overall scenario, however, doesn’t provide much hope of a good performance in the Olympics.
Gold for Deepika
Deepika, a four-time World Cup Final silver-medallist, clinched an individual World Cup gold for the first time since 2012 when she defeated Michelle Kroppen of Germany at the Salt Lake City stage. With that, Deepika qualified for the World Cup Final for the seventh time and she ended the season with a silver at the event in Samsun.
The male archers, who were once World No. 1, never managed to take off, while the women’s team was no better. More than a dozen junior and senior archers were tried in the male team with Olympian Atanu Das being the only regular member. But none of them brought back the glory of the past.
Thankfully, the compound archers compensated for the recurve show.
Vijaywada archer Jyothi, a regular member of the Indian women’s team, had the most memorable year. Jyothi clinched three World Cup silver medals in the team events, including one at the Finals. The women’s compound team also bagged the Asian Games silver, improving upon its bronze-medal finish at Incheon in 2014.
Jyothi and her male counterpart Abhishek Verma made for a formidable pairing in the compound mixed pair event, clinching four bronze medals from the four stages of the World Cup. The duo ended the year on a high with a World Cup Final silver in Samsun in the exhibition compound mixed pair event.
The men’s compound team, however, failed to defend their title at the Asian Games, returning with a silver. It lost to South Korea in the shoot-off after the final scores were revised.
With no individual competition in the compound section and recurve archers drawing a blank, the Indians returned with two silver medals from the Asian Games — a sharp decline from their one gold, one silver and two bronze count from 2014.
With Olympics less than two years away, and the qualifications slated in 2019, the newly-elected body has a huge task on hand to revive the fortunes of the recurve archers.
Fortunately, not all is lost for them, as the junior archers have shown promise. The Haryana duo of Akash Malik and Himani Kumari had a promising outing at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games where the former emerged as India’s first ever silver-medallist in archery. The 15-year-old son of a farmer, Akash lost to Trenton Cowles of the U.S. in the final, while Himani made a pre-quarterfinal exit.
Archery had its share of controversy, too. National compound coach Jiwanjot Singh Teja was denied the coveted Dronacharya award for a case of "indiscipline." Having guided the Indian compound archery team to two silver medals in the Jakarta Asian Games, Teja later resigned as the national coach.
There were some heartwarming moments as well, with Deepika and Atanu announcing their engagement.