Deepika Kumari secured for India an individual quota for Tokyo 2020 by winning the Asian Continental Qualification Tournament (Asian CQT) held alongside the Asian Archery Championships. Ankita Bhakat was right behind her, winning the Silver, but individual quotas were restricted to only one quota per country.
This individual quota also guarantees India entry in the mixed team event. The mixed team event allows only one team per country in Tokyo, and needs a minimum of one male and one female to be competing in individual events to form a team. Thus, with the men having already qualified a full team, India is now assured a mixed team as well.
Deepika topped not only the match-play but was also top of the ranking round for the Asian CQT. However, it should be noted that the CQT was separate from the Asian Archery Championship itself. This is because countries who already had previously qualified archers were not allowed to compete in the CQT. As a result, the field for CQT was relatively weak.
It should be noted that while Deepika is the official individual quota winner, the quota belongs to the country and not to her. As a result, the federation can choose to send any archer to Tokyo. Normally, the selection is made through a series of trials, and in 2016 when the men were in a similar position, Atanu Das went to Rio even though Mangal Singh Champia had won the quota.
At the Asian Championships itself, India (competing as independent athletes due to an archery federation in turmoil) had a good performance. Still, individual women’s recurve was the one Olympic event India failed to medal in. We won Bronze in all the four remainings recurve events – Men’s Individual (Atanu Das), Men’s Team, Women’s Team and Mixed Team – while the compound archers returned with 2 Silvers (Men’s Team and Women’s Team) and 1 Gold (Mixed Team).
Securing the women's team quota
However, while the individual women quota won today is great, the Indian women archers are unlikely to be satisfied with a single quota and will be eagerly eyeing a full team quota, which will allow India to field a women’s team as well as three archers in the women’s individual event at Tokyo 2020.
Unfortunately, the Indian women missed their first chance to secure this team quota at the World Championships in June. This was when the men secured their team quota in style with a magnificent Silver.
At the world championships, eight-team quotas were on offer, but the Indian women went down to Belarus in the Round of 16 in a nightmarish match. Some of the scores shot were very low with a 5, a 3 and a miss all shot by the Indian archers. As stated later by team members, this was due to certain “technical problems”.
However, the women will get a second and final chance at the Berlin World Cup in June, 2020. Once again, a tournament separate from the World Cup itself will be held that will consist only of countries with unqualified teams, and the top 3 teams in this tournament will qualify full teams for Tokyo. With most of the top archery nations already having secured their team quotas at the World Championships, India will start as one of the favourites with their toughest challenge likely to come from Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, Mexico and USA.
It should, however, be noted that the women’s final chance will come as late as the final week of June, and thus, even if they are successful there, they will need to overcome a short turnaround time to the Olympics which begins less than a month later.
Barring the magnificent Silver from the men at the World Championships, Indian recurve archery has had a tough year, made worse by administration problems which, besides forcing Indian archers to compete under a neutral flag, also caused the entire Indian squad to miss the Medellin World Cup in April due to flight scheduling issues.
However, archery is a highly unpredictable sport and the Indians are world-class performers that can never be counted out. Hopefully, as the Olympics approaches, we will see a turnaround, with these Asian Championships that provided four medals and a quota in Olympic events, acting as a starting point.
And while sports like shooting, wrestling, boxing and badminton have taken off in the last 5-10 years with the support of Olympic medals, Indian archery just needs that one medal boost to take it to the next level.