I couldn't bear the internal politics so I left — Former coach of archer Jyothi Surekha
Jiwanjot Singh Teja, who has been the coach of archer Jyothi Surekha, Paralympic medal winner Harvinder Singh, speaks up about the challenges of compound archery in an exclusive conversation.
The Olympics 2020 had initially flagged big hopes for Indian archery. Buoyed by the gold-medal winning success of the Archery World Cup in June, an even better July was seemingly on the cards for India. However, the Olympics still remain a different ball game for Indian archers for whom a medal from the Games remained ever-eluding.
Almost two months after India's recurve archery campaign ended medalless at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the sport has perceived a quiet redemption. Harvinder Singh nicked India's first-ever archery medal in the Paralympics, holding his nerves to down Kim Min Su of Korea in a thrilling shoot-off for the men's individual recurve bronze. Within a month, India tasted success again at the Archery World Championships 2021, where they returned with three medals.
Jyothi Surekha Vennam led from the front by becoming the first Indian to bag three medals in a world archery event. Vennam lost an intense final to Colombian heavyweight Sara Lopez in the compound women's individual section. The 25-year-old was at her best and shot a perfect final end but the five-time World Cup champion Sara was superior to clinch the issue by two points (146-144). For Jyothi, this was her second silver medal at the World Championships as she became the only Indian archer to have four podium finishes at the showpiece biennial competition.
Jyothi had bagged a silver (Mexico 2017) and a bronze (Den Bosch 2019) in the team events at the previous World Championships.
Both Harvinder and Surekha have been the mentee of Jiwanjot Singh Teja, who coached them in their formative years. The national compound archery coach Teja, who is now in Canada with his family, could not be more delighted by his wards performances. "It is quite a double delight for me after Harvinder won the bronze medal, Jyothi has been able to achieve what no one else has done. She has always been a good archer and what she did last week makes me more proud," says Teja over n interaction with The Bridge.
It had been quite a long journey for Teja with one of his favourite wards Jyothi, whom he met in 2012. "I met Jyothi for the first time during the 2012 national championships. There was some dispute between the Secretary-General of Andhra Archery Federation and her father, whose daughter was initially denied a chance to compete in the tournament. One of my students introduced me to Jyothi, and I requested the Secretary-General for her to compete. And after plenty of requests, Jyothi was allowed to play in the nationals, where she won the gold. I was later appointed the coach of the compound team, and Jyothi joined me in the camp in 2013. In the 2013 World Championships, we narrowly missed a bronze medal. However, Asian Games 2014 was our set target. Here, Trisha Deb won a bronze medal in the women's individual category, Abhishek won a silver in the men's individual category. Abhishek, Rajat, Sandeep won men's team gold, whereas Jyothi, Trisha, and Purvasha clinched the bronze in women's team event."
Since then, there was no turning back for Jyothi, who won World Championships medals in 2017 (silver in compound women's team), 2019 (bronze in compound women's team and individual). It was complemented by one bronze 2017 World Cup, four bronze medals, and a silver in World Cups in 2018. However, the journey has not been smoother for the compound archers. Compound archery is yet to be inculcated in the roster for the Olympic Games. Therefore, those who choose this sport, do not attain the glamour of the recurve archers. "Despite not participating at the Olympics for compound archery, the Archery Championships play an integral role. We have been winning medals for like last six years at the World Championships, and since 2013, we have been among the top five countries in the world. However, the major challenge lies is in the facilities. Unlike recurve, compound archery does not have the facilities in India. Recurve archery has plenty of sponsors, and also the government allocates separate funds for them because of the Olympics.
In 2017, I approached the Association to send our archers to foreign countries to train with their archers. I was promised initially that the team would be sent for foreign exposure, which got cancelled at the last moment. I had put down my papers because I was sure it could not work like this. Later the DG of SAI called me back, and then we were given approvals. Compound archers have faced plenty of hurdles in the ecosystem. Several programs facilitate the equipment for recurve archers, but compound archers also have to bear a chunk for their own equipment," says Teja.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the world organisation that determines which sports are featured in the winter and summer Olympic Games. After each Olympics, the IOC sits down and hears from world sports committees, like World Archery, about sports that could be added to the next games. Getting compound bows into the Olympics is not simply a matter of convincing the IOC that the move would be good for the archery competition, but it's convincing the IOC that adding compounds is a better idea than adding scads of other sports that are also trying to get in the Games. Teja says, "Had compound been a part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, I am pretty sure our archers would have brought medals."
The coach primed in his own archery playing career back in the 90s. He was the first archer from Punjab to have win archery nationals in the sub-junior, junior and senior levels. Since 2013, he had been one of the youngest and most promising coaches of the Indian compound archery team, who guided the team to achieve a plethora of international laurels. However, Teja feels he has been a victim of politics, which coerced him to resign as the chief coach of the Indian compound archery team in 2018.
Teja was recommended for the Dronacharya Award by the selection committee, headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal, but the Sports Ministry struck off his name, citing a past incident of indiscipline against the coach. This came even after Indian archers won three medals at the 2018 Asian Games, where Jyothi had won a silver. His mentees, Arjuna award-winning archers, including Abhishek Verma and Rajat Chauhan, Jyothi shot off a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, requesting him to ensure that their coach Jiwanjot Singh Teja is not deprived of Dronacharya honour, but it fell to deaf ears. "The panel that decided the award in 2018, had my name on it. I was informed that I would be the youngest Dronacharya Awardee, coach. Yet my name was dropped at the last moment. My students even went on to request it to the then Sports Minister of India, but they were not entertained. I asked them to come back and had to take the call of my resignation. I couldn't bear the politics and I left"
But that has been an episode of the past; Teja came back with strong will again and showed how a mentor par excellence he is when he trained Harvinder for the Paralympics and became a part of history when he won India's first medal in archery at Paralympics/Olympics.
He concludes, "Today, I am so much happier because I want all the medals which every coach wants from their students. My archers have won medals in the Paralympics and World Championships. Nothing could be more satisfying than this."