Madhya Pradesh’s Muskan Kirar and Raginee Markoo are thick friends, perennial room-mates, regular teammates and the fiercest of rivals. Indeed, the Under-21 archers looked like bitter foes as they battled for the gold in the Under-21 Girls compound in the Khelo India Youth Games on Monday.
Even Richpal Singh, the head coach of the MP Archery Academy, who is used to their duels, couldn’t bear to watch. “I knew that only one of them was going to come back with the gold. So, my real job was to think of ways to console the other,” Richpal sighed. Surprisingly, the packed audience too got entangled in the contest, with most of them rooting for Raginee, the younger of the duo. “It’s natural for the crowds to support the underdog but even I was astonished by the intensity in the stands,” the coach beamed.
As the final arrow left their bows, Muskan and Raginee embraced warmly and turned into friends once again, giggling and laughing, relishing the 1-2 for Madhya Pradesh. With Srishti Singh picking up the bronze, it was a clean sweep for Madhya Pradesh, signalling the state’s emergence as a major power in archery.
“For most in our camp, it may have looked like a scene from one of our training sessions. But it wasn’t. We were fighting out of our skins and it was tense out there. After all, we are competitors first,” Raginee explained, ruing the missed gold. A Junior World Champion (Mixed Team compound), Raginee is used to winning and scoffs at the suggestion that nerves might have got the better of her. “Not at all. Don’t forget that I hit a 10 and two 9s in the first round to take the early lead,” she defended herself.
Muskan, a silver winner in the previous edition of the Games in Pune and a bronze medal winner from the World Championships last year, knew what she was up against. “After the first set, I adjusted a few basics,” she explained. “I shifted my grip a bit, made my string action a little more compact and that did the trick,” she added, explaining her success. But then, Raginee herself gave away the advantage too firing a 6 with her first shot in the second set; that effectively negated her lead and handed the bout and the title to Muskan.
“Yes, that one shot cost her the gold. It’s obviously impossible to recover from something like that,” coach Richpal conceded. Richpal, who was handed the task of mentoring Muskan to victory in the final, said that he would have given the same advice to Raginee too. “I know what he would have told me. Don’t delve into the past or imagine the future. Don’t even think what is happening a foot either side of you. Just think about what you have to do,” Raginee laughed.
The coach has drilled this mantra in the minds of all his wards so deeply that Raginee had no problem reciting it. “I just had to clear my mind and play,” she added. "I didn't do that today." In addition to the sweep in the Girls Under 21 compound, Madhya Pradesh's Chirag Vidyarthi also won the gold in the Boys U17 compound to make it four for them.
Each of them gave credit to their Academy that has become the talk of the archery course now. “I think if you have a structure in place and facilities that enable athletes, then we will obviously get success,” Muskan says.