From 2012 to 2021 — What changed for Deepika Kumari?
Archer Deepika Kumar's success ahead of the Tokyo Olympics is similar to the one she attained before the London Games. However, this time her eyes are fixed upon the elusive medal.
"Deepika Kumari wins the gold medal in Archery World Cup; she claims the no.1 position in the world before heading into the Olympics as one of the brightest medal prospects for India. She has mounted on the expectations of more than a billion people of the country."
The narrative above is not from June 2021, but that of nine years ago in June 2012. Cut to May of that same year; a 17-year-old Deepika Kumari had marked a dominating entry among the world's top archers. Buoyed by the confidence of gold-medal-winning performances at the Commonwealth Games 2010, Deepika won her first World Cup individual recurve gold medal in archery at the Antalya 2012 Archery World Cup Stage. She was also a part of the women's team troika that won the silver at the Asian Grand Prix 2012 and Archery World Cup, Stage I in Shanghai.
Her astounding achievements took Deepika to the summit of World rankings by the end of June 2012 — a first by an Indian archer. With just a month left back then for the London 2012 Olympics, the young girl from Ranchi was primed to bag a medal at the Games which could have been India's first-ever Archery medal for the Olympics. Even MS Dhoni, the former Indian cricket captain from Ranchi, also rooted for her. Many believed that a spot on the podium was a given. The hype was quite justified as Deepika sealed her name atop the world ranks. She had won a medal at every event that she had entered in the past few months. She was, on paper, the woman to beat in London.
However, all the hopes were shattered during the archery competition in London Games. Deepika failed to produce desired result in the women's team event. The faithful termed it a blip. She would show her mettle in the individual competition, they claimed. On came the singles event. The result was disappointing again. In many ways, worse than what it was in the team competition.
Experts suggested that Deepika's world number one ranking, which eventually led to a host of expectations, was simply an eyewash. Although the Indian shot well in various events in the run up to the London Olympics and made the most of her chances, many believed the performances didn't quite merit the kind of climb that she had in the rankings.
Nine years later and 900-times more matured, Deepika Kumari's sub-conscience could be tossed for a deja vu. Deepika Kumari on Monday regained the number one position in global rankings for recurve women following her hat-trick of gold medals at the World Cup Stage 3 in Paris on Sunday. At 27, opportunity knocks on Deepika's doorway once again for that elusive Olympic medal India has been hunting since time immemorial. Her unparallel success has once again unleashed hype from all over the country, and she has mounted the weighty bag of expectation around her shoulder. Now the question remains can Deepika Kumari change her fortunes at the Tokyo Olympics? Can she ensure not to give in to the pressure that builds up before the Olympics?
How justified is the hype?
Since 2012, Deepika now boasts of a total of 35 medals, including 11 gold medals across various events at the Archery World Cup. She has qualified in the individual event for the Tokyo Olympics and as well as the mixed-team events — she won gold in both the events at the latest World Cup.
Going by numbers, Deepika showed massive progress in her performance compared to 2012. Deepika's average arrow stands at 9.09, compared to 9.05 in 2012. She holds the best ranking round score of 686, which was achieved in 2016, and a win/loss tally of 114-39, which gives her a 75% winning rate. In 2021, her win/loss tally stands at 10-0, with a 100% winning rate and an average arrow of 9.29, the best of her career.
She will face tribulations against top archers like Kang Chae-young, An San of Korea, Tan Ya-Ting of Chinese Taipei, Michelle Kroppen of Germany, and Mackenzie Brown of the USA.
In archery, the seeding and draw for elimination rounds in all 3 events - individual, team, and mixed team - depends on an archer's individual score in the ranking round. We can see in the table above, Deepika's best ranking round score has been 686, which is better than all top 5 ranked archers except no. 1 archer, Chae Young of South Korea. Also, her winning percentage of 100 for 2021 is better than all archers in the top 5 of the world, which speaks volumes for her current form.
Into her third Olympics, Deepika Kumari, who has been by far the best archer India has ever produced, would have to ward off every inch of the jinx she faced in her last two Olympic appearances and aim at the bull's eye with all her might.