When Jharkhand lost out on a podium finish in compound archery at the 40th NTPC National Archery Championships, its members did not pack their bows to return home.

Instead, two of the three were spotted practising on a spare target at a lonely corner in the field. “We’ll try to win the next time,” said one of the archers as the other continued shooting.

Babita Kumari and Anita Kumari had sneaked out from the public eye into an empty space – to improve, persevere, and aim for a medal next time.   

Thoda aur practice karte toh ho jaata  (With a little more practice, we could have won a medal),” said Babita with a smile.   

Babita, one of the youngest archers at the Championship, comes from a village named Barenda that once made the headlines for rumours of witchcraft. Her father is a farmer.

Before turning 18, she had won four gold medals and as many silver medals in the under-14 SGFI Archery Championship between 2015 to 2017.

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Babita took up archery after watching Madhumita Kumari, who won the silver medal for India at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. On Saturday, Madhumita shot beside her.

“I felt very happy,” said a jubilant Babita, “Only when I compete against seniors will I understand how much I have progressed.”  

Anita is another young prodigy from a distant village called Tunku in Jharkhand. Her career has been a bit of a rollercoaster. She won a gold medal in the 2019 Khelo India Youth Games but was dropped from the Indian team after a doping violation in April this year.

“I want to put the past behind and aim for an Asian Games gold,” she said.

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Their teammate Jhano Hansdah at 45 is older than the combined age (18 and 22) of the duo.

The trio, which beat seasoned athletes in the championship to force into the semifinals, competed together for the first time on Tuesday.   

An inspector in Indian Railways, Jhano has been in the archery circuit for 25 years now.

“I have been in compound archery for 15 years and in recurve for 10 years. If we had met earlier, we might have added some more points on the board,” she said.  

The team competed individually on Sunday but failed to make the cut for the quarterfinals. As a group, they scored 223 points, three short of an assured podium finish.