This day was in the pipeline for nine years. India could have won the coveted Olympics medal in archery. The husband-wife duo of Atanu Das and Deepika Kumari was expected to pull off the historic feat of winning India's first-ever archery medal in the mixed-team event of the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
Sometimes, however, the most unexpected events happen at the grandest of stages of the world. India's Deepika Kumari paired up with Pravin Jadhav in the mixed event. The duo registered a come-from-behind 5-3 win against Chinese Taipei's Chih-Chun Tang and Chia-En to reach the quarter-finals.
Korea, however. awaited them in the quarters. The inevitable happened where both Deepika and Pravin conceded a 2-6 defeat against An San and Kim Je Deok.
A dream Deepika has been chasing since 2012 yet again wasn't realised in the hallowed grounds of Tokyo. This was supposed to happen in the summer a year ago, after which the pair of Atanu and Deepika had planned to tie their knots.
However, a pandemic and a delayed Games also made them the first Indian couple in the same sport to go to the Olympics together.
Despite having big hopes on their shoulders every time before the Olympics, Indian archers couldn't live up to their potential. After Limba Ram came close to winning a bronze medal in Barcelona in 1992 before finishing fourth, no one has been in contention for a medal.
Deepika and Atanu could have lived up to their promises, which were expected of them since they won the gold medal in the Archery World Cup in Paris last month after beating the Netherlands. However, things went south even before Atanu could forge his partnership with Deepika in the mixed event of the Olympics.
Pravin Jadhav (Source: World Archery)
Jadhav was preferred by the team selector ahead of Depika's husband based on the form shown in Friday's men's individual qualification round. There was disappointment in store in the men's individual ranking round at the Yumenoshima Park as the Indian trio of Das, Jadhav and veteran Tarundeep Rai finished in the bottom half.
Jadhav was the best among the Indians with 656 points for a 31st place finish, three points ahead of India No 1 Atanu, while Rai, in his third Olympics appearance, took the 37th spot among 64 archers. The entries for mixed pairs were submitted within 45 minutes of the conclusion of individual events.
Based on the combined scores of Jadhav and Deepika, who finished ninth earlier secured a similar ninth place ranking for the mixed pair competition. India had the option to send entries of Atanu and Deepika, but the federation went ahead with Jadhav.
"Simply put, we picked Jadhav based on his current form, it's no rocket science," Archery Association of India official Virendra Sachdeva, who is accompanying the team in Tokyo, told PTI.
Deepika had turned many heads around at the age of 15 by winning the Youth World Championships in 2009 and then bagging two gold medals at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games next year.
The 27-year-old has been a part of every Women's Recurve medal India has ever won. With 35 world cup medals (stages and finals) under her belt, including 11 gold medals, the Jamshedpur athlete has been a true inspiration in her field of sport for the upcoming generation.
Despite being the best in business, the one dream that has always eluded Deepika was an Olympic medal. Her first outing at the Olympics was in London 2012, where she had crashed out of the first round of the women's individual event, bringing the curtain down on the country's hopes in the sport.
The then World No.1 Deepika suffered an upset, going down to Amy Oliver of Great Britain by six points to two. She looked completely off-color and was no match for her British rival at Lord's.
Deepika Kumari and Atanu Das (Source: World Archery)
The match took place under thick overcast conditions and the cold did not seem to suit Deepika, who paid the price for some poor shots. Four years later, dreams took a toll once again when Deepika lost in Women's individual competition after losing to Chinese Taipei Tan Ya-ting by 0-6 in the Round of 16 at the Rio Olympics.
The Tokyo Olympics was a challenge for the firebrand archer to further her greatness in Indian sporting history, and she has not succeeded in one of the two tests she has faced.
Another litmus test awaits her in the women's individual recurve archery in Tokyo. Owing to her ninth finish in the women's individual ranking rounds, she is destined to face North Korea again in the quarters, which could again prove to be her Achilles heel.
The mixed event was perhaps the best prospect for Indian archery in Tokyo, where the couple missed out even getting a chance. A reminder: the road ahead is even stiffer.
With inputs from PTI.