JAYANT, RUNU SIGNAL NEW ORDER

HE is tall and strong with the sturdy physique of a footballer. But four years ago, when archery coaches spotted Jayant Talukdar during a talent-hunting trip in Guwahati, they realised that he had not touched sport even with a bargepole.

STAN RAYAN

HE is tall and strong with the sturdy physique of a footballer. But four years ago, when archery coaches spotted Jayant Talukdar during a talent-hunting trip in Guwahati, they realised that he had not touched sport even with a bargepole.

Jayant Talukdar... the Olympic round individual champion.-MAHESH HARILAL

"I was never interested in any sport," said Jayant, the youngest son of a quarry-owner. "But when they called me for the archery trials, I decided to go."

At the fortnight-long Tata Archery Academy camp in Jamshedpur, he topped the group of fifty boys and girls picked from all over the country, impressing the selectors with his physical strength, endurance and mental toughness.

Jayant took to archery like a fish to water. He is cool and focussed, all traits which stood him in good stead. And last year, he was best performer in the Indian team which made history by winning the silver medal at the junior Worlds in Britain. It was the country's first medal at a World championship.

The other day, the 18-year-old Jayant surprised a few seasoned stars and emerged as the country's champion archer at the 25th Senior Nationals in Kochi, topping the Olympic round which decides the individual champion.

Archery has been considered as a tribal sport for long. The sport conjures up images of rugged men and women, clothed in leaves and in traditional headgear. But with modern equipment coming in and with job opportunities opening up in a big way for the sport's stars, that notion is fast changing. And Jayant is a classic case.

"Ten years ago, eighty per cent of our champion archers were tribals. Today, sixty per cent come from non-tribal areas and some are well educated too," says Olympian and Arjuna Awardee Sanjeev Singh.

"In another five years, just twenty per cent at the top level will be tribals," says Sanjeev, one of the top guns in the country a decade ago.

The sport is quite competitive too. Army's Tarundeep Rai, also a non-tribal like Jayant, won three of the four golds and finished at the top of the FITA men's rankings. But when it came to the individual championship, an elimination round which begins with the top 64 finishers, the Sikkim-born youngster bowed out in the quarterfinals.

"Archery has become very unpredictable these days," said Olympian Tarundeep, a distant cousin of star footballer Baichung Bhutia.

The launch of prize-money ranking tournaments in the National Circuit two years ago has made the base bigger attracting many non-tribal newcomers to the sport. A few years ago, archers just had the Senior Nationals to look forward to. But now, they have around eight to ten major tourneys every year.

"The prize-money circuit is a huge success," said Anil Kamineni, the Secretary of the Archery Association of India. "That's the big reason for the record turnout at the Kochi Nationals," he said.

There was a certain freshness in Kochi with many new faces sparkling. Like Jharkhand's Runu Swargiery, who won the FITA women's individual championship on her Senior National debut. Just 16, Runu shocked her team's most famous member, Dola Banerjee, an Athens Olympian and a three-time National champion.

Runu, like the boys' champion Jayant, hails from Assam and took up the sport just two years ago. She just managed a couple of bronzes in the Junior Nationals in Chandigarh a few weeks ago but won the medal that mattered in Kochi.

Dola was disappointed but not exactly unhappy with Runu's triumph.

"Runu's success and the tight competition is good for the sport. It will make the Indian team stronger," said the 24-year-old Dola who lost the Olympic round final by just one point to the teenager.

Jharkhand, virtually Jamshedpur's Tata Archery Academy, dominated the Senior Nationals. It won both the men's and women's team titles and the individual championship honours in the FITA recurve category.

Jharkhand's Vivek Kumar and the experienced Jhanu Hansda bagged the individual honours in the compound event.

However, Andhra pulled off a big upset by lifting the men's compound team title.

The compound event, which made its Senior National debut last year in Jamshedpur, is less strenuous as the bows are fitted with a few pulleys.

Runu Swargiery... another feather in her cap.-MAHESH HARILAL

The event saw many of the archery's former stars return to the sport.

However, the compound events are yet to make their debut in the Olympics and thus the category is an expensive affair.

Manipur swept the team trophies and the women's individual crown, through L.Gitanjali Devi, in the Indian round which was a low-key affair. Services' Gangmei Robert bagged the men's individual title.

Indian archery broke new ground two years ago at the FITA World Championship in New York when its men finished fourth and women sixth.

The sport appears to be right on track and just needs a dash of glamour to take it to new heights.

The winners FITA, recurve events:

Men, 90m: Tarundeep Rai (Army, 314 pts). 70m: Tarundeep Rai (330 pts). 50m: Tarundeep Rai (331). 30m: Satyadev Prasad (ITBP, 353 pts, Natl Record; OR 352 of Tarundeep Rai, 2004). FITA overall: Tarundeep Rai (Army, 1325 pts). Team championship: Jharkhand (Jayant Talukdhar, Rahul Banerjee, Gautam Singh Sardar, Robin Hansda, 243 pts). Individual championship (Olympic round): Jayant Talukdar (Jkd, 110 pts).

Women, 70m: Reena Kumari (Jkd, 321 pts, equalled Natl record of Dola Banerjee set in 2004), 60m: Reena Kumari (Jkd, 337 pts NR; OR 328 of Dola Banerjee set in Kolkata in 2001). 50m: Dola Banerjee (Jkd, 328 pts NR; OR 322 of Reena Kumari set at Jamshedpur, 2004). 30m: Dola Banerjee (356 pts, Natl record, OR 347 of UP's Sumangala, 2004). FITA overall: Dola Banerjee (Jkd, 1330 pts, Natl record, OR 1309 of Jkd's Reena Kumari, 2004). Team championship: Jharkhand (Dola Banerjee, Reena Kumari, Laxmi Rani Majhi, Bhagyawati Chanu, 221 pts). Individual championship (Olympic round) Runu Swargiery (Jkd, 102 pts).

Compound events:

Men, 90m: Naresh Damor (ITBP, 317 pts). 70m: Shivnath Nagasia (ITBP, 339 pts). 50m: Shivnath Nagasia (ITBP, 331 pts, Natl record, OR 323 of Jkd's Sanjeev Singh, 2004).

30m: Sanand Mitra (Chat. 354 pts, Natl record, OR 349 of Jkd's Sanjeev Singh, 2004). Overall: Naresh Damor (ITBP, 1328 pts). Men's team championship: Andhra Pradesh (N.Arun Kumar, Syed Sharefuddin, Ch. Lenin, Nagarjuna). Individual championship: Vivek Kumar (Jkd, 113).

Women, 70m: Jhanu Hansda (Jkd, 328 pts). 60m: Jhanu Hansda (337 pts). 50m: Jhanu Hansda (332 pts). 30m: Jhanu Hansda (347 pts). Overall: Jhanu Hansda (1344 pts). Individual championship: Jhanu Hansda (Jkd, 116).

Indian round:

Men, 50m: Gangmei Robert (Ser, 310 pts). 30m: M. Chinglensana Luinans (Arunachal Pradesh, 323pts). Team championship: Manipur (L.Rajesh Singh, Y. Uttam Singh, M. Nanao Singh, 1839 pts). Individual championship: Gangmei Robert (Ser, 628).

Women, 50m: L. Gunita Devi (288 pts). 30m: L. Gitanjali Devi (306 pts). Team championship: Manipur (L. Gitanjali Devi, H. Rajpriyari Devi, P. Binita Devi, 1713 pts). Individual championship: L. Gitanjali Devi (591 pts).