India’s pride dented

Laxmi Rani Majhi... a remarkable comeback.-PICS: S. PATRONOBISH

The failure to win the individual men’s recurve event is seen as the nation’s biggest reverse in recent times, writes S. Sabanayakan.

Though India dominated the fourth Asian Grand Prix archery event (Kolkata, September 16-19) — it won seven of the eight gold medals at stake — Bangladesh and Iran managed to deny the host the top honours in what could be considered the most prestigious event of the championship, the men’s individual recurve.

India had eight entries in the event, and four of them were world-class archers, but yet failed to win the individual recurve gold which otherwise would have helped the host complete a sweep. On the other hand, Bangladesh created history by winning the gold in the event, thanks to its gangling young archer Mohammad Sajjad Hossain. The triumph was Bangladesh’s first ever in a tournament of this stature though it had won silver and bronze medals at the South Asian Federation and SAAF tournaments.

Hossain defeated Iran’s wheelchair-bound war veteran Ebrahim Ranjbarkivaj 105-101 in the final.

For the Iranian archer, making his first final of a Grand Prix event, the defeat was perhaps the biggest disappointment of his life.

The Grand Prix Series, like the World Cup Series, is a FITA-recognised ranking tournament. The chairman of the FITA judges committee, Morten B. Wilmann, was present to oversee the technical conduct of the meet. Yet the championship lacked quality, what with second- and third-grade archery nations such as Iran, Scotland, Singapore, Northern Ireland, Hong Kong, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan taking part.

According to some, the field would have been better had New Delhi, the original venue, staged the event. But lack of a ready venue owing to the construction work in the capital, which is preparing to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games, forced the AAI (Archery Association of India) to shift the venue to Kolkata. Perhaps another reason why the top nations didn’t take part was that the season-ending 45th World Championship had concluded in Ulsan (South Korea) only a week before the Asian Grand Prix.

Against this backdrop, India, fielding its best archers in both recurve and compound categories, was expected to make a clean sweep of the gold medals. But the failure to win the individual men’s recurve event was the biggest reverse the nation had suffered in recent times.

“We are feared by all including the world champion, Korea,” said the National coach, Limba Ram. “I am indeed disappointed that we missed out on the most sought after medal.”

The coach expressed his concern over the lack of quality second-string archers to push the top ones in the country. “The top three, Jayanta Talukdar, Rahul Banerjee and Mangal Singh Champia had a long season. The other five including Tarundeep Rai and Vishwash should have performed better,” Limba lamented.

The Indian men, however, won the recurve team gold.

Sajjad Hossain... doing Bangladesh proud.-

The best performance came from India’s women recurve archers as the top four entered the semifinals of the individual category and won all three medals at stake. Laxmi Rani Majhi relegated Rimil Buriuly, who was the best in the ranking round, to the second place.

Laxmi, making a strong comeback after a gap of three years, said: “I worked on my weakness ever since I was dropped from the Indian side. Now I want to represent India in the fifth Grand Prix in Dhaka in October and the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi next year.”

Dola Banerjee, Rimil and Reena Kumari ensured India the team gold, beating Bhutan hands down. It was indeed a great achievement for Bhutan to finish second. The tiny nation overcame Iran in the semifinals.

Iran, which was considered to be India’s main threat in both recurve and compound bow sections, rested its top archers after the Worlds and its second-string did not pose much challenge in the compound section.

Reza Zamaninejad, who had won a World Cup leg a couple of years ago, was expected to trouble the Indians in the compound section. But his first-round defeat to Tim Keppie of Scotland made things easy for the host as its archer Chungda Sherpa won the gold medal. National champion Cinna Raju Srither won the bronze in the event.

In a three-team field, India had no problem in winning the compound team gold, defeating Scotland 230-225. While Scotland and Iran were expected to put up a good fight in the women’s compound event, it was India which dictated terms. Manjudha Soy, another talented adivasi, made her presence felt by bagging the gold medal, quelling the challenge of the short and stocky Scot, Tracy McGowan.

Tracy, ranked second in the individual qualification, looked the best in terms of class and consistency. She faltered only in the final when the Indian began to get her act together.

In the team championship, India (Jhano Hansdah, Manjudha Soy and Namita Yadav) won the gold, defeating Scotland 223-211.

THE RESULTS

Recurve final — Men: M. Sajjad Hossain (Bangladesh) bt Ebrahim Ranjbarkivaj (Iran) 105-101. Third place: Mark Forrester (Scotland) bt Vishwash (India) 104-99.

Team: India (Jayanta Talukdar, Rahul Banerjee & Mangal Singh) bt Bangladesh 220-202. Third place: Scotland bt Iran 205-193.

Women: Laxmi Rani Majhi (India) bt Rimil Buriuly (India) 112-109. Third place: Dola Banerjee (India) bt Pratima Boro (India) 102-93.

Team: India (Dola Banerjee, Rimil Buriuly & Reena Kumari) bt Bhutan 217-191. Third place: Iran bt Bangladesh 182-176.

Compound final — Men: Chungda Sherpa (India) bt Ali Mojazidalfard (Iran) 115-110. Third place: C. Srither (India) bt Tim Keppie (Scotland) 116-104.

Team: India (C. Srither, Chungda & Kh. Ratan Singh) bt Scotland 230-225. Third place: Scotland bt Iran 225-224.

Women: Manjudha Soy (India) bt Tracy McGowan (Scotland) 110-109. Third place: Namita Yadav (India) bt Bheigyabati Chanu (India) 110-105.

Team: India (Jhano Hansdah, Manjudha & Namita) bt Scotland 223-211. Third place: Iran bt Bangladesh 222-167.

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THE WILL TO FIGHT

The two Iranian recurve archers on wheelchairs, Ebrahim Ranjbarkivaj (in pic) and Zahra Nemati, were the centre of attraction at the Asian Grand Prix championship.

Ranjbarkivaj, a 39-year-old war veteran, lost his legs in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), while Zahra, a pleasant looking 23-year-old lady, was an unfortunate victim of a devastating earthquake in her home town of Bam in 2003. What is common between the two is they took up archery to put their lives back on track.

Ranjbarkivaj is an old hand in archery, having practised the sport for decades. Zahra, on the other hand, took up the sport only a couple of years ago in order to take up fresh challenges in life. Both are passionate about archery and have been excelling in the sport and winning laurels for their nation.

For Ranjbarkivaj, taking on the likes of Muni Ram Tirkey and Jayanta Talukdar on way to the men’s individual recurve final — the Iranian lost to the inexperienced archer from Bangladesh, Mohammad Sajjad Hossain — must have been a memorable experience. The Iranian, who took part in the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, broke down after his defeat, as he was looking to win his first gold medal in a Grand Prix event.

The Asian Grand Prix in Kolkata wasn’t a happy hunting ground for Zahra too. However, she was better off than Ranjbarkivaj in the sense that she had won a bronze medal in the individual recurve in the second Asian Grand Prix in Tehran, denying India’s Sushma Arya the honour. It was indeed a moving sight to see their team-mates treat both Ranjbarkivaj and Zahra with love and compassion. The two truly symbolised the competitive spirit of the sport: to fight till the end.