Transition struggle for Indian archers in forgettable 2022
India's recurve archers hit a nadir within a year after their debacle at the Tokyo Games as the postponement of the Asian Games foiled the resurrection plans.
India's recurve archers hit a nadir within a year after their debacle at the Tokyo Games as the postponement of the Asian Games foiled the resurrection plans but the compound practitioners proved to be a saving grace in an otherwise forgettable 2022.
Having returned empty-handed from yet another Olympics, the national federation hit the reset button and picked a new-look team for the Asian Games, six months before the Games for better preparation. But as it turned out the Asian Games were postponed because of a further spike in COVID-19 cases and the Indian federation's advance planning came to naught.
The Hangzhou showpiece was the biggest event in the calendar after the Birmingham CWG organising committee excluded archery from their roster. It meant three of the four Tokyo-returned archers including the power couple Deepika Kumari and Atanu Das were out of the team and Jayanta Talukdar, a veteran of 25 World medals, made a comeback after five years.
Talukdar joined another old warhorse in Tarundeep Rai to make a team with Sachin Gupta, the reigning national champion. In absence of Deepika, 24-year-old Ankita Bhakat spearheaded the women's team which had two teenagers in former cadet and youth champion Komalika Bari and national champion Ridhi Phor.
From three World Cups, the recurve archers returned with one gold, one bronze and one silver. The silver came courtesy a rejig in the women's team by bringing back Deepika for the third World Cup in Paris.
Deepika since then went into maternity break and recently embraced motherhood by giving birth to daughter Vedika.
"It's best to forget (the past) and look forward," the proud father Das told PTI.
"We have two important years ahead and a good show there can make up for the lost time," India number one Das, who did not feature in a single International event in 2022, added.
The absence of Deepika was felt badly especially in the women's team which returned with a team bronze in stage 1 World Cup in Antalya. In the men's section, 23-year-old senior national champion Gupta failed to impress and could not even qualify for the main round in the Stage 4 of World Cup.
Veteran Talukdar, who played all the four World Cups, came close to a medal but went down in the quarters in the World Cup Stage 1 and Stage 2. The 38-year-old Rai on the other hand had the best finish of a pre-quarterfinal at Stage 2.
The federation also brought back Tokyo Olympian Pravin Jadhav in the third stage only to finish outside top-32. Former World champion and newly-inducted Indian Olympic Association executive committee member Dola Banerjee conceded that the archers' show especially in the men's section has been disappointing.
"The seniors failed to impress and you can't expect junior archers to perform straightaway at the world level. It's going to be a busy year and all eyes will be on them," Banerjee told PTI.
She however remained hopeful of their good show in the women's section.
"We don't know yet about the comeback status of Deepika but Komalika, Ridhi and Ankita have been together for a long time and we can expect them to do well."
Compound archers provide the silver lining
It's the compound section that yet again proved to be India's saving grace. Abhishek Verma continued to dominate the circuit and was part of India's all three gold medal winning teams in the first three stages of the World Cup.
The compound archery stalwart also ended a long wait for his maiden gold in mixed team event when he along with Jyothi Surekha Vennam topped the podium in Gwangju World Cup.
But it was the little-known Mohan Bharadwaj who grabbed the attention, upsetting world champion Nico Wiener en route to a silver medal in World Cup Stage 3 in Paris.
The national federation also gave an impetus to the compound section and sent them for indoor competition following World Archery's proposal for the inclusion of indoor compound events in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
As a result, Rishabh Yadav became the first Indian archer to secure a gold medal in an elite international indoor event with an upset win over World No 1 Mike Schloesser. His feat came in the men's individual section at the JVD Open, a Kings of Archery Series event, in the Netherlands.
Recurve archer Gupta claimed two silver medals -- in the JVD Open and the GT Open. Indian juniors also won a clutch of medals (15 gold, 13 silver and three bronze) in the three stages of the Asia Cup but it remains to be seen how they will perform at the world stage.