Jyothi Sureka Vennam: “He is very talkative.”
Ojas Pravin Deotale: “Didi bahut shaant hai (She is very calm).”
Jyothi Surekha Vennam and Ojas Pravin Deotale are opposites in every way possible. Jyothi is the senior at 27, while Ojas is just 21. Jyothi comes from Vijayawada, and Ojas comes from the central Indian city of Nagpur.
Ojas is the ‘dancing star’ of the Indian team, but Jyothi is an introvert.
Jyothi is the calm one, Ojas makes up by being ultra-talkative both on and off the field.
“[He talks] All the time. He is talking every time,” laughs Jyothi. “I just say, Ojas, just keep quiet.”
On this evidence, it might be easy to conclude that they cannot come together to make a good team. But on Wednesday, they shot India to a stunning mixed team gold by beating South Korea at the Asian Games. Their gold, India’s second in archery at the Asiad, made it the nation’s best-ever medal campaign – bettering the Indonesia Games’ tally of 70 (2018) – in the Games.
South Korea has won four of the seven gold medals in compound archery since the discipline was included in the 2014 Incheon Games. India’s lone gold came in the men’s team event at the 2014 Games.
On an overcast morning here at the Fuyang Yinhu Sports Center field, Jyothi and Ojas hit the bullseye on 44 of their 48 attempts, while missing the 10 by a whisker in the other four to see off the challenges of Malaysia, Uzbekistan and South Korea.
Jyothi said they were not intimidated by the prospect of facing the Koreans. Their Italian coach Sergio Pagni thinks it is the Indian archers who are now setting the benchmark. “I think all other countries think that India is the team to defeat. We have already defeated all the teams and we won everything,” said Pagni, who is a two-time world champion.
Ojas is already an individual world champion and Jyothi is a world champion in teams. Both Ojas and Jyothi won gold medals as a mixed team in two legs of the Archery World Cup this year in Antalya and Shanghai. Both are also in the finals of the individual compound events in the ongoing Asian Games.
For the final, Pagni told them to just go out there and shoot how they know best. “Coach said, ‘Hit a 10 and come back like you have been doing all your life. It’s just a piece of cake’,” said Ojas.
Ojas and Jyothi, who scored 10s with their first efforts, didn’t even seem to notice when India got an early advantage in the final when Joo Jaehoon failed to hit the 10 with his first effort. It was all smiles among the duo and the coach.
For two contrasting personalities, Pagni takes different approaches to handle them. “Ojas is a more open guy and more confident. So, you must make him smile and when he is smiling, he is feeling more confident. You must push him. He is like a stone, and you have to push him, and he starts to talk.
“Jyothi is different. She is very protective, and you need to know how to stay with her. She is more interested in not showing what she has inside. She is more relaxed with me. We know how to manage these moments so for her – like more it’s of a training than a competition,” explained Pagni.
It was then precision archery from both teams as they hit successive 10s until the end of the second round. But at the start of the third round, India let its advantage slip when Ojas hit a nine. When he turned to Pagni, the Italian gestured ‘dusting his shoulder’ to let him know that it’s in the past.
That allowed Ojas to not hit the panic button and go chasing after 10s in his next shots.
“We just have to support each other no matter the conditions. If one drops a 9 or is unable to shoot well, the other has to step up and take the lead,” said Jyothi. “He knows everything, I don’t need to say anything to him. If you are not able to shoot well in one arrow, it’s okay. It’s already gone. We must focus on the rest of the arrows.”
And Jyothi did exactly that by scoring a 10 to follow up on Ojas’ nine.
Both teams went into the final round level on points. And, once again, Jaehoon could only hit the 9 at the start of the round as the Indian pair closed out the final with four successive 10s to seal the gold medal. The Indian bench, including Abhishek Verma, were jumping out of their seats in jubilation as Jyothi’s final arrow hit the mark to confirm the win.
While they had a historic gold in their bag, the pair fell narrowly short of matching the world record score of 160/160 in a mixed team, achieved by Denmark this year.
“If the nine was a 10, then it’s a world record. So, the quality of the shots was very high. They missed the world record in the first World Cup stage as well, so we have the record to look forward to next season,” said Pagni.
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