Archers eye future with hope

S. SABANAYAKAN

Winners all: Rahul Banerjee (left) and Vivek Kumar (standing); Dola Banerjee (left) and Bansaralin Dhar (squatting).-PRADIP MALLICK

THE recent performances of the Indian archery contingent in international competitions have enhanced its standing in the world. The Indian men are currently ranked No. 2 in the world, both in the senior and junior recurve sections; a fact not many European or Asian countries can lay claim to. Perhaps, the lone exception can be South Korea, world leaders in the recurve section.

While the Koreans stand head and shoulders above the rest of the world, India's progress, too, in the Olympic sport has been phenomenal.

As the coach of the the Indian squad for the last two years, Korean Chae Woong Lim, a contemporary of Limba Ram, faced the most embarrassing situation of his life in Madrid, the venue of the 43rd world outdoor meet. After the Indian team's solid show at the 18th Golden Arrow meet in Antalya in Turkey, where India's top woman archer Dola Banerjee won the individual gold and helped the team win the silver medal to improve its position to fourth in Madrid, the coaches of the Ukraine and Russian Federation asked Lim about the number of ranked women archers in India competing for a place in the National team. The Korean said it did not exceed 25. Shocked and surprised, the two coaches not only refused to believe him but also called him a liar!

"It was the most embarrassing moment of my life. Don't you think I told them the truth?" he asked during the recently concluded third and final Tata Steel National ranking tournament held at the J.R.D. Tata Sports Complex in Jamshedpur from October 7 to 10.

Lim was right. There were just 23 women in the fray in the recurve event at a meet billed as the final selection trials for the upcoming 14th Asian championship (November 5-10) in New Delhi. Out of which only 16, a mix of seniors and juniors, could be considered as archers of some substance.

There were times when India had only one quality archer, Mizoram's Lalrem Sanga, to partner Limba Ram in the men's division. Lack of a good third and fourth archers meant that India never stood a chance in the team championship and looked up to Limba and Sanga to excel in individual events. And the duo never delivered: the reasons being many, the most important being lack of exposure to top-flight competitions.

Today there are at least 10 to 12 archers who can shoot in the range of 1300 plus from a total pool of about 60-odd archers with the potential to compete with the best. The turn of fortune came in 2001-2002 when the Archery Association of India (AAI) abandoned the National camp system and encouraged the individual academies and SAI centres to take up the mantle of training the archers.

The AAI also introduced circuit meets with prize money and announced that the coach from the centre which contributed the most number of archers to the National squad would accompany the team. This resulted in keen competition. Enthused by the response, the AAI plumbed for a series of prize money meets and brought into place a ranking system that supported consistency.

The scores began to soar. International medals followed. From winning an odd medal at Asian circuit meets, India singed the world in the 2003 New York Worlds finishing fourth in the men's and sixth in the women's categories. The next year India won the team silver medal in the junior Worlds at Lilleshall in the United Kingdom. At the Madrid Worlds in 2005, it was silver for the men and fourth place finish for the women.

The AAI has disbursed close to Rs. 40 lakh as prize money in the past three years and close to Rs. 1 crore on overall development, including equipment support and training trips abroad. The maximum financial support came from the Union Government. The technical committee chairman and senior vice-president of the AAI, P.N. Mukherjee, says, "There is enough money to attract young talent to the sport. Apart from cricket, tennis and football, archery can give more money than most other sports in India. The showing of Indian archers against the best in Asia and Europe has made the rest of the world sit up and think of Indian archers as world beaters. If the AAI keeps up the momentum, an Olympic medal will not be far away," observes Mukherjee.

Arjuna Award winner, Sanjeeva Singh, now the secretary of the Jharkhand Archery Association, from where most of the archers hail, points out, "The cream of Indian archers can shoot anywhere close to 1330 (out of possible 1440) in the FITA round. We hope to raise it to 1350 by the next Olympics and World championship. In the Olympic round, the Indian archers are shooting 165 to 170 points (out of 180) and 107 to 110 points (out of 120). As is often the case, what they lack is consistency. They need to get 170 plus regularly in the 18-arrow and in excess of 110 in the 12-arrow competitions to be in the medal contention. That is the ultimate we are aiming for in the next two years," he explains.

The country's top archer, Tarundeep Rai, who left football to take up archery, is a confident man, after his fine showing in Madrid where he lost the bronze medal to a Korean but nevertheless returned home wiser and a confident person. "We are close to being the best in the world. We used to fear the Koreans but now we can give them a good fight," he says.

Just prior to the Jamshedpur ranking meet, the Indian squad took part in the third Asian Grand Prix in Jakarta. Impressively enough, the 16-member team won one gold, four silver, three bronze medals and two fourth-placed finishes.

The four-day competition also brought much joy to the Banerjee siblings, Dola and her younger brother Rahul. The two topped the overall individual championship coming through the challenge posed by a world class field.

The conduct of the championship was of a very high order, thanks in no small measure to the generous support from steel major, Tata Steel, who stepped in to spend Rs. 6 lakh including Rs. 2,30,000 as prize money.

Gopal Narayan Bhatia, Chief, Administration, inaugurated the meet and JAA president and deputy MD, Tata Steel, T. Mukherjee, gave away the cash awards on the final day.

The results

Overall standing — recurve men: 1. Rahul Banerjee (Jhr) 132.5 points, 2. Jayant Talukdar (Jhr) 132; 3. Majhi Sawaiyan (SSC) 126, 4. Vishwash (SSC) 125; 5. Satyadev Prasad (ITB) 123.5; 6. Harish Chand Kerai (SSC) 121; 7. Tarundeep Rai (SSC) 116; 8. N. Ravindhar (AP) 107.5; 9. Gurcharan Besra (SSC) 95.5; 10. Somai Murmu (SSC) 87.5. Women: 1. Dola Banerjee (Rly) 76 points; 2. Laxmi Rani Majhi (Jhr) 64; 3. Reena Kumari (Rly) 56.5; 4. Chekrovolu Swuro (Nag) 54; 5. L. Bombayla Devi (Mani) 46; 6. Punya Prabha (UP) 39; 7. Sujata Das (CRP) 30; 8. Sumangla Sharma (UP) 29; 9. Anima Basumatary (Asm) 28; 10. Rosie Lalrem (Jhr) 27.

Compound men: 1. Vivek Kumar (CRP) 74; 2. C.H. Lenin (AP) 65.5; 3. Naresh Damor (ITB) 59; 4. Chungda Sherpa (SSC) 55; 5. Shivnath Nagesia (ITB) 49; 6. Syed Shareefuddin (AP) 47. Women: 1. Bansaralin Dhar (Jhr) 49; 2. Jhanu Hansdah (Jhr) 41; 3. Sakro Besra (Jhr) 38.5; 4. Manjudha Soy (Jhr) 35; 5. Sumanlata Murmu (Jhr) 20; 6. Radha Bai (Cht) 15.