Atanu Das eagerly followed the trajectory of the arrow he shot at the Sanskardham archery range. His last shot in the final of the men’s singles recurve event thudded into the yellow circle and that was enough.
He had already shot two scores of 10 in the final series against Gurcharan Besra, who had two scores of nine. With his final nine, Das had put the tie beyond his opponent. He eventually won 6-4.
He had a disappointing Tokyo Olympics, where he lost in the pre-quarterfinals after beating Korea’s Oh Jin-Hyek - the London Olympics singles gold medallist - in the round before. Soon after, Das also lost his place in the national team.
The National Games gold came at the right moment to rejuvenate the archer’s career, but Das has set greater targets.
“It feels good to win, but my target isn’t just to get gold at the National Games,” he says. “It’s a little more than that. I’m not going to scream and shout. I’ll do all of that after I’ve done something much bigger.”
Archery was everything for Das – especially in the run up to the Olympics – and he paid an emotional price for it. “After the Olympics, I felt a heavy burden. I lost twice (in the singles pre-quarters and in the men’s team quarterfinals). We worked hard the entire year and when you lose after that, it feels like your life is over,” he says.
Das was devastated by the loss and had to take a long break from the game. “After Tokyo, I took a two-month break. It took me two-three months to get over that loss mentally. I travelled a lot. I went to Ladakh and the Maldives. But in my mind, there was only the Olympics,” he says.
Despite the hurt, Das never thought about quitting. “I never thought of it. The loss is painful, but you must deal with it and move on,” he says.
Das changed the way he approached the game when he resumed training. “I started training in different places. I trained in Shillong for two-three months. I trained in Pune, Jabalpur and then Kolkata as well. I didn’t want to base myself in just one place. I wanted to give myself as many different shooting experiences as possible,” he says.
Despite the changes, results weren’t forthcoming until the National Games. He failed to make the Indian team for four Archery World Cups this year. Das even failed to make the top-eight in the selection trials for the World Cups in March. “I really missed the World Cup phase. My friends from abroad were competing. I really missed wearing the Indian jersey and competing,” Das says.
Instead of just sitting and doing nothing, Das concentrated on rediscovering his game. “I was just focusing on preparing myself for next year,” he says.
The result finally came his way at the National Games. But, in 10 days there is another national ranking series, and he must perform there to get back in the national side for the next season. “To get a gold here means that my preparations are on the right path. But we still have more competitions. We have one more national ranking tournament in Hoshangabad in 10 days. If I don’t do well there, they can easily say my performance has dropped and I am out,” he says.
There’s mental anxiety that comes with situations like this, but Das, over the course of the year, has learnt to find a balance. “We have a personal life which we forget when we make archery the biggest expectation of our life. I’ve tried to neutralise that. Along with archery, my personal life is also important. I’m giving importance to my personal life and have the right balance,” he says.
Earlier this year, Das and his wife – fellow Olympian archer Dipika Kumari – realised they were going to become parents. Their baby is due in December and Das, like any expectant parent, is a little nervous about it. “Archery is something I’ve been doing for several years. So, I know how I’ll manage (my archery career). The other thing (baby) is something I’m not sure how I’ll manage. It’s of course a matter of joy but there is some nervousness on what to expect. It’s not something you can prepare for,” he admits.
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