Another games, another hope

In good form… Deepika Kumari (above), Rimil Buriuly (below) and Laxmirani Majhi (down) are aiming for a medal in the team event at the Rio Olympics next year.-SANDEEP SAXENA In good form… Deepika Kumari (above), Rimil Buriuly (below) and Laxmirani Majhi (down) are aiming for a medal in the team event at the Rio Olympics next year.

At the World Championship in Copenhagen recently, the Indian women’s team comprising Deepika Kumari, Rimil Buriuly and Laxmirani Majhi not only qualified for the 2016 Olympics but also picked up three quota places in the individual event. By S. Sabanayakan.

After a heart-breaking moment at the 2012 London Olympics, the Indian women’s archery team will get another chance at the Rio Games next year to redeem itself. The three archers, Deepika Kumari, Rimil Buriuly and Laxmirani Majhi, ensured this by attaining the qualifying standard at the Copenhagen World Championship recently.

The early capitulation of the women’s team at the London Olympics is still fresh in one’s memory. India’s world-class archer Deepika, who was deeply hurt by the severe reaction back home then, will lead the team at the Rio Olympics. In Copenhagen, Deepika, Rimil and Laxmirani not only earned a place for the team in the Olympics but also picked up three quota places in the individual event.

Like Deepika, her mentor, Purnima Mahato, a Dronacharya Award winner, too has a point to prove. In the run-up to the London Olympics, the women’s team, coached by Purnima, had won a silver medal at the World Championship in Turin, Italy. The Indians were so carried away by their showing in Turin that they performed miserably at the 2012 Olympics.

Purnima has a word of caution for the powers that be. “We need to learn from our successive failures. The team had qualified for three Olympics in the past, but our training methods did not change with the passage of time. Our archers practise shooting in calm and isolated surroundings at home, but at the Olympics, the venues will have raucous spectators who can unnerve the newcomers. This is exactly what happened in 2004 (Athens) and 2012 (London),” she says.

“This time around we need to create an atmosphere akin to the Olympic Games and make our archers train there for months. We don’t have much time left and the preparations must start immediately,” Purnima adds.

It is a fact that the Indian women have done far better than the men in the international arena. Beginning with the 2003 World Championship in New York, the Indian women’s team has been winning Olympic quota places at the most fiercely competed championship that provides the first qualification window. Be it Leipzig in Germany in 2007, or in Turin in Italy in 2011, the Indian women’s team has been the cynosure. On the other hand, the only time the Indian men qualified from the Worlds for the Olympics was in 2003 where the team finished fourth overall. There were many women who dominated the domestic scene in archery until the current team coach, Purnima, held sway in the mid-1990s before Dola Banerjee of Bengal took charge in the recurve section. Dola, a highly talented and motivated individual, inspired a new generation of women archers with her performance, both at home and abroad, just as Limba Ram did for men’s archery.

Dola, representing Jharkhand, along with Chekrovolu Swuro of Nagaland, Reena Kumari of Jharkhand and Bhagyabati Chanu of Manipur, figured in the team that did so well at the Worlds in New York in 2003. It was Dola who inspired the Indian team that earned a berth for the 2008 Beijing Games at the Leipzig World Championship in 2007. Apart from Dola, the other members of the team were Chekrovolu and Laishram Bombayla Devi.

Dola won the ‘champion of champions’ title in Dubai in 2007 where all the four World Cup winners competed. Dola earned her place for the Dubai final by winning the Dover World Cup, which was the fourth in the series.

The Tata Archery Academy, established by Sanjeeva Kumar Singh, an international archer, brought to the fore many talents from the Northeast and rest of India. Jharkhand became the hub of archery. Another very talented young lady, Deepika from Ranchi, made her presence felt by winning the senior, junior and sub-junior National titles in the same year (2009). The child prodigy showed her prowess in ample measure by emerging the cadet World champion in 2009, and two years later won the junior World title — the first by an Indian.

Deepika led from the front at the 2011 World Championship in Turin, and the Indian team (Chekrovolu and Bombayla were the others) went on to win the silver medal — the first by an Indian women’s team. In Copenhagen recently, it was Deepika again who inspired her team-mates, Laxmirani Majhi and Rimil Buriuly, to help India win the silver medal. In between Deepika emerged World No. 1 with her performances in various international meets, including winning a number of gold and silver medals. She was also the first Indian to make it to four World Cup finals consecutively, starting from 2010, and winning silver medals in the last three.


What makes the women’s recurve archery tick?

Paresh Nath Mukherjee, former secretary general and vice-president of the Archery Association of India, attributes the success of women’s archery to the contribution made by Purnima as the coach. “She was an outstanding archer in her halcyon days and her ability to understand the situation and advise the players accordingly has been helping the girls a lot,” he says.

“When Purnima was out of coaching for a year and half, the performance of the Indian women had dipped. Her return to coaching has lifted the girls’ spirit and confidence, and that has made a huge difference,” Mukherjee adds.

According to Dola, Purnima is like an elder sister to the woman archers. “Her ability to communicate well with both the men and women players gives the team the edge. She understands the needs of each archer and deals accordingly,” she observes.

However, Dola is quite concerned about the future of women’s archery as she feels there is no one to replace Deepika Kumari. She is also of the view that the Korean, Lim Chae Wong, was the first foreign coach to spot the potential in Indian women. “His teaching has helped Indian women a lot. He always thought Indian women archers had more potential to win international medals than their men considering the standard of international archery,” Dola says.