Olympic medal is Dola’s goal

Dola Banerjee... looking forward to the Asian Championship and the World Cup final in Doha in November.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Dola Banerjee is sceptical about the future of women’s archery in India. “There are not too many youngsters who can push the seniors,” she says. The champion archer, who won the individual recurve title in the fourth leg of the Dover World Cup recently, spoke to S. Sabanayakan.

Dola Banerjee...

Dola Banerjee is the queen of Indian archery. Her kingdom is small, unknown to most of her compatriots and is run purely on the largesse of the Central Government.

Born in a middle-class family in Baranagar, on the outskirts of Kolkata in West Bengal, Dola pursued archery with all seriousness and carved a niche for herself. The two individual gold medals she won in international meets, one at the European Grand Prix in Antalya, Turkey, in 2005 and the other in the fourth leg of the Dover World Cup in July this year, earned India its second successive Olympic quota place, after the 2004 Games in Athens.

Dola, who narrowly missed the bronze medal at the Doha Asian Games, holds five National records apart from winning innumerable podium finishes for her team at the continental and international level. Now her aim is to win an Olympic medal.

Dola’s ambition received a big boost with her stunning victory over former World and Olympic champion from Korea, Yu Min Jin, in the first World Cup in Ulsan (Korea) early this year. It was a feat that largely went unnoticed at home.

As Dola’s parents — her father Ashok Banerjee is a businessman and mother Kalpana a housewife — wanted her to spend some time on the playfield, archery became the obvious choice as the Baranagar Archery Club was very close to her home. Within a year Prabir Das and Pratap Das moulded her to compete in the State sub-junior championship, and a third place finish was all that she needed to plunge headlong into the sport.

Dola emerged the National sub-junior champion in 1992 and ’93, and in the next four years she reigned as the National junior champion. She won her maiden senior National crown in 1999 in Shillong and retained the title for the next two years before regaining it this year in Vijayawada.

Dola’s exploits in the international arena are equally spectacular. Since the age of 16 she has been representing India in junior and senior competitions. She won two gold medals — individual and team — at the SAF Games in Colombo.

She also represented India in two Asian Games, in Busan and Doha, and the 2004 Athens Olympics. Perhaps Beijing will be Dola’s last Olympics. “Since I began to make a mark at the senior level, I have been dreaming of winning an Olympic medal,” she recalled. “I firmly believe India has the potential to win an Olympic medal in archery.”

If Limba Ram was the icon of Indian archery, Dola is the first woman icon in the making. She has been an inspiration to many youngsters who idolise her and want to emulate her.

“Wherever we went to compete, fellow archers enquired about Limba. To me, at one point of time, Limba was Indian archery. When I grew up I had no woman to look up to. It was Limba who was my inspiration. Why, he inspired a generation,” said Dola in praise of Limba Ram.

“Undoubtedly, the two gold medals I won in Antalya and Dover are my greatest achievements so far,” she said. “The most satisfying moment was helping India earn the Olympic quota place at the Leipzig World Championship this year. I did badly in the individual championship, but by God’s grace we managed to beat the Russian Federation in the first round and booked the three berths,” she recalled.

Dola finished 66th at the World Championship, perhaps her lowest position in recent years.

“Just as I was wondering what went wrong at Leipzig, came the Dover leg of the World Cup, and frankly my mind was occupied with thoughts of doing well rather than winning a medal,” she pointed out. “I was relaxed and my only aim was to shoot freely without any pressure. The thought of winning a medal came to my mind only when I was in the semifinals. When I looked back, I could see how well I shot and thought why not give it my best.”

Dola stood second overall, behind Juan Juan Zhang of China in the qualifiers. After overcoming Elena Tonetta of Italy in the individual quarterfinals, Dola outplayed third seed Malgorzata Cwienczek of Poland before edging out Zhang by a point in the final. The Indian team finished third.

Dola is sceptical about the future of women’s archery in India. “Chekrovolu Swuro, Reena Kumari and I are the three seniors. There are not too many youngsters who can push us. In fact, there are hardly eight to 10 who are competing with us,” observed Dola. “The success of Korea and China is because of a system that produces a stream of talent to take over from the seniors. In India the story is different. People outside India do not believe when we say that there are hardly a dozen women archers competing for places in the National team.”

Dola is of the view that India needs more grooming institutions like the Tata Archery Academy. “I greatly benefited from the Academy. I must thank the Archery Association of India (AAI) for supporting me throughout. The prize money ranking tournaments it started helped all of us to have regular competition and earn some money. The AAI also ensured that we all got enough international exposure,” she pointed out.

Dola’s next stop will be the Asian Championship and the World Cup final in Doha in November. She is currently placed Number 4 in the World Cup ranking.