Tarundeep, Satyadev lead the next generation

THE era of Limba Ram has long passed. And, even though he is nowhere in the reckoning his aura still lingers over Indian archery.

KIRTI PATIL

THE era of Limba Ram has long passed. And, even though he is nowhere in the reckoning his aura still lingers over Indian archery.

The men's qualifiers (from left): Tarundeep Rai, Satyadev Prasad and Majhi Sawaiyan. -- Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM-

This generation belongs to Tarundeep Rai, Satyadev Prasad and Majhi Sawaiyan, and all have Limba to thank for. The three archers are set to become Olympians when they step in Athens this August. And, they owe their success to Limba, whose efforts at the international stage gave archery a new hope in India.

Unlike a decade ago when Limba was the lone hope, today there is no dearth of archers, though limited. Jayant Talukdar, Rahul Banerjee, N. Ravinder and Provat Kandir are the second rung archers waiting for their big day. Among them, Talukdar is the brightest prospect having given Rai, Prasad, Sawaiyan and others, a tough time during the five-phased Olympic qualification tournaments.

This despite Limba refused to pass on the baton. The youngsters though quietly picked up from where he left it and moved on.

Hence for the guts they showed four years ago, Indian archery now stands at the crossroads — either it leads to success or the fallout leaves more determined archers across the country.

At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Indian archery would have anyway crafted a place for itself, whatever may be the results. At the 2003 World championships in New York, the first qualifying event for 2004 Olympics, India carved a niche for itself by qualifying in both the men's and women's team competitions. World champion South Korea and Ukraine are the only other nations who would have the maximum, six archers in Athens.

Since New York, the performance of the Indian archers has been consistent. Individually they haven't done anything extravagant so far, but certainly they are in the reckoning at least for the team championship medal.

Like the men, the women archers have also done well. There is, however, a little twist in the tale on the women's side. Or one may term it as an irony.

Chekravolu Swuro, the archer from Nagaland, had been instrumental in helping India clinch the team berth for the Olympics. Ever since she had been a regular member of the team when women archers took part in the Grand Prix events in the recent past — a semifinal showing in the German Grand Prix at Wyhl being the highpoint. But she finds no place in the team for the Olympics.

Not that Chekravolu was out of form. In fact, she had played a crucial role in the Indian team's good show at Wyhl but at the end of the five-phased Olympic qualification program the women's team has a new face in junior archer Sumangala.

It would be entirely on Sumangala to get accustomed to the pressures of international competitions and also jell with the other two teammates.

The qualifiers among women (from left): Sumangala, Dola Banerjee and Reena Kumari. -- Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM-

Sumangala sneaked into the team purely on her better performances in the first four phases, which allowed her to build an inaccessible lead going into the final leg at Meerut.

On the first day, Sumangala finished the two 70m ranking rounds with an ordinary score of 575 with 72 arrows. Then in the three Olympic rounds she never touched 110, with 12 arrows. She posted modest scores of 104, 98, 100, 96, 102, 95, 100, 99, and never really looked sharp. Her best was 108, that too in the concurrently run selection tournament for the Junior World championship. There also Sumangala lingered in the 90s, scoring 93, 98 and 96. Beside 108, she had 102 and 104 for some consolation.

Such a set-up leaves Dola with extra responsibility, what with Reena Kumari also showing indifferent form lately. The only solace was that Dola remained consistent throughout.

On the men's side, there hardly was any unexpected result. Though Rai and Prasad suffered in the third Olympic round, their scores always remained beyond 100.

"Everyone knows the scores Indian archers used to shoot just a year and a half ago. Compare those scores with what they are shooting now and one will agree that the standard has gone up," says the General Secretary of the Archery Federation of India (AFI), Anil Kameneni.

Not only the seniors, there are many juniors who have been giving each other tough competition. "Juniors have suddenly come up making our archery program a success," says Kameneni. "If they sustain this performance, India will have a good future in archery."

Rai was a class act in the two 70m ranking rounds, shooting world-class scores of 655 out of a possible 720. Prasad faltered in this round as he came sixth with 635, but bounced back in the Olympic rounds — winning one of the three rounds. Though the third Athens-bound archer Sawaiyan gave nondescript performance in Meerut, together as a team the archers certainly carry some hope.

The next test comes during the Turkish Grand Prix in Antalya, in July, before they assemble in Kolkata for the final conditioning camp for the big day in Athens.