Under pressure

"A few years ago we were under no pressure to perform and went all out to beat higher ranked teams. Now every country is wary of India. We need to handle this additional pressure well," says India's top archer Dola Banerjee-S. PATRONOBISH

Following their good performances in the World Championships in New York (2003) and Madrid (2005), the Indian archers are expected to maintain their showing at the coming world meet in Leipzig, writes S. Sabanayakan.

India's recurve archery teams, which begin their campaign at the 44th World Outdoor Championship in Leipzig in Germany (July 7-15), will be under pressure to live up to their expectations. India is one of the favourites in the recurve bow event, which arguably is more popular than the compound bow. At the 2003 World Championship in New York, the men's team finished fourth, while the women took the sixth place and in the process won the quota places for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

At the 2005 World Championship in Madrid, Spain, India had a dream run with its men winning the silver medal and the women narrowly missing the bronze. In the individual championships, India's Tarundeep Rai missed the bronze by a whisker.

However, India's performances in New York and Madrid made the whole world sit up and take notice of it. And now, in Leipzig India will be expected to retain its position, if not better it — a situation the Indian archers will not find easy to tackle. Also at stake for the Indian archers will be the quota places for the Beijing Olympics.

Since their remarkable showing in Madrid, the Indian archers, with the exception of Jayanta Talukdar, who was on top for a brief while last year, have not found any great success. Jayanta's title triumph at the Porec World Cup in Croatia — the first by an Indian — reinforced the belief that Indian archery was moving in the right direction. However, the poor performances of the senior archers subsequently belied all hopes.

The juniors and cadets, on the other hand, did remarkably well last year with Palton Hansda winning the individual compound bow gold medal at the World junior meet. At the same meet, Prabhat Kandir won the silver medal in the recurve event, while Pranitha Vardhineni too bagged silver in the recurve cadet event. India also won a silver and bronze medals in the team championship.

India's problem is that it does not have a permanent foreign coach to guide its archers. This despite the fact that the sport is growing rapidly around the world. The Sports Ministry's reluctance to pay a high salary to a foreign coach is a major deterrent. "A good coach will cost India $3000 and above per month,'' says the senior vice-president of the Archery Association of India, P. N. Mukherjee.

At present the Tata Archery Academy has a South Korean, Chae Woong Lim, as its coach. There is another South Korean in charge of the Mittal Champions Trust. The third South Korean, Chae Hong Gi, till recently with the Army Sports Institute, has become the coach of Great Britain.

Efforts to have a home-grown coach have also come a cropper with ITBP's Satyadev Prasad and Tata's DharmendraTiwary, both NIS diploma holders, falling below expectations.

India's top woman archer Dola Banerjee is of the view that other countries take India very seriously in archery these days. "A few years ago we were under no pressure to perform and went all out to beat higher ranked teams. Now every country is wary of India. We need to handle this additional pressure well,'' she said.

Adding to this tremendous pressure are a few rule changes, especially the one curtailing the number of arrows in the team and individual Olympic rounds. Previously a team was allowed to shoot 27 arrows; now it gets only 24! Earlier, in the individual Olympic round preliminary stages, an archer was allowed to shoot 18 arrows and in the later stages 12 arrows. Now this has been standardised to 12 arrows throughout. "The changes made in 2006 did hit us hard,'' bemoaned Dola. "One bad shot is enough to put you out of a contest. One has to be very consistent to survive,'' she cautioned.

Will the failure of Jayanta and Mangal Singh Champia to qualify for the men's team have an impact?

"Former National champion Somai Murmu was plain unlucky not to make the Indian team in the last 10 years. He has been among the best all these days. His aggressive and fearless approach will certainly help the team,'' said Mukherjee.

The compound bow event offers no such promises. Introduced in India only in 2001, it will take another five years, if not more, for the Indian archers to attain international standards.

The contingent:

Recurve — men: Rahul Banerjee, Tarundeep Rai and Somai Murmu. Women: Dola Banerjee, Chekrovolu Swuro and Laishram Bombayla Devi.

Compound — men: Jayantilal Nanoma, Cherukuri Lenin and Chungda Sherpa. Women: Jhano Hansdah, Bheigyabati Chanu and Sumanlata Murmu.