The rise and rise of para-archer Pooja Jatyan

Jatyan became the first Indian archer to win a silver medal in an individual event at the Para World Championships.

Pooja Jatyan

Pooja Jatyan became the first Indian para-archer to win a silver medal in an individual event at the World Championships in Dubai, UAE on 27 February 2022.   -  SAI Media/Twitter

Maine gold, silver ya bronze ke baare mein socha hi nahin tha. Bas apni shooting ko dhyaan mein rakha (I did not think about gold, silver, or bronze. I just focused on shooting”).”  

This is how 24-year-old para-archer Pooja Jatyan defines her incredible run at the recently held World Archery Para Championships at the Dubai Club for People of Determination. She became the first Indian archer to win a silver medal in an individual event at the Para World Championships.

Pooja, after leading 3-1, went down 3-7 to Italy’s Vincenza Petrilli in the final of the women’s individual recurve event. India clinched one more medal, a silver in the compound mixed team event by Jyoti Baliyan and Shyam Sundar Swami, making it the country's best-ever performance at the Worlds. 

Pooja, born in Gurugram, tells Sportstar how she got to know about the sport. “I started archery in Sirsa in 2011-12. During my hostel days, many students used to play archery. There were other games too, but I felt archery was the one I will be able to play,” says Pooja, who shifted to Rohtak post marriage. 

Pooja was diagnosed with polio when she was five and her left leg is shorter than the right leg.

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She made her professional debut at the Asian Para Games in 2018 in Indonesia where she lost 2-6 to eventual bronze medallist Jo Jang Moon of Korea in the first round. “Due to various issues, I could not play archery for four years. Finally, I made my debut at the 2018 Asian Games. So, when I participated, I did not expect much since I had not practised enough,” says Pooja.

She then participated in the 2019 World Championships in the Dutch city of ’s-Hertogenbosch, an event that also acted as a qualifier for next year’s Tokyo Paralympics. Her campaign ended in the second round and she failed to qualify for the Summer Games.

Going into the World Championships in Dubai, Pooja's coaches, Surender Singh Randhawa and Kuldeep Kumar Vedwan, and the Sports Authority of India staff had expected a medal from the recurve mixed event where she teamed up with Tokyo Paralympics bronze medallist Harvinder Singh. “Harvinder Singh is an Asian Games gold medallist and has an Olympic medal. He shoots well, and I appreciate that. I had faith in my hard work, but I knew if I erred during the mixed team event, he’ll cover-up. He gave his 100 percent but if it did not happen, it is okay.”

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Pooja and Harvinder beat Ukraine 5-4 in the first round but lost their quarterfinal 1-5 to Thailand. In the women’s team event, Pooja and her compatriot Pooja Khanna, India’s first-ever Paralympic archer, lost the bronze medal play-off 1-5 to Mongolia. 

In the individual event’s qualification round, Pooja finished fourth with a score of 598 and received a bye in the first round. As it turned out, her second-round opponent was Khanna, her senior. “The second-round match was a bit complicated for me because I was against my compatriot, and you don’t feel too happy despite winning because of the fact that the opponent is from the same country. I won that match, and the next few matches too went well but I did not expect anything,” she says. 

When asked if she felt some pressure going into the final since her opponent was the Tokyo Paralympics silver medallist, she said no. “If that would have been the case, I would have lost 6-0. Thinking that the opponent was a silver medallist at the Paralympics, I would not have been able to shoot any arrows.” 

With her outstanding performance at World Championships, Pooja Jatyan has become one of the archers to watch out for at the upcoming Asian Para Games in Hangzhou and possibly the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

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