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Gold medal winning Men’s compound archery team member Rajat Chauhan takes aim as Sandeep Kumar (left) and Abhishek Verma looks on during the final in Incheon on Saturday. Photo: PTI.
Gold medal winning Men’s compound archery team member Rajat Chauhan takes aim as Sandeep Kumar (left) and Abhishek Verma looks on during the final in Incheon on Saturday. Photo: PTI.

India’s compound archers hit bullseye

The little-known compound archery team's winning campaign at the first Asian Games to feature the discipline

Sport creates a team out of the most unlikely of teammates. Alone they may have gone unnoticed, but together they are the Asian Games champions.

Abhishek Verma, an income tax department employee, who uses his spare time to train the archery team at his alma mater Hansraj College in New Delhi; Sandeep Kumar, an army man, who admires Abhinav Bindra and wanted to be a shooter, but found archery was his calling; and Rajat Chauhan, whose mother pawned her jewellery to buy him an imported bow and for whom the class XII examinations were so big a hurdle that he failed three times before giving up.

The trio beat one of the most formidable teams in the world, South Korea, on 27 September, to win a gold for India in compound archery, introduced in the Asian Games for the first time.

Trisha Deb celebrates her win in the compound women’s individual archery bronze medal match in Incheon, South Korea on Saturday. Photo: PTI
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Trisha Deb celebrates her win in the compound women’s individual archery bronze medal match in Incheon, South Korea on Saturday. Photo: PTI

Verma pursued the sport, in college, but when he got a job with the income tax department, it became increasingly more difficult to make time for archery. To keep in touch with the sport Verma took to training his former college’s team. In the meantime, he also made it to the Indian team and, from time to time, travelled to international competitions. But he continued to live under the shadow of the recurve team since, till 2014, compound archery was not a part of the Asian Games.

“My students will be very happy and be motivated by this," Verma said after the win. “It would have been nice to get two gold, but a gold and silver will do for now. It is sad that archery was not there at Commonwealth Games and will not be there at Rio (2016 Olympics), but that is not in our hands.

“To me the big thing is that we did win medals at the World Cup and World Championships, but Asian Games is bigger because more people follow it. Now our success is being shown on TV and people will understand archery. People did not know much about compound but now they might ask about it."

As for being on TV, the most excited is the garrulous Chauhan from Jaipur, who almost makes a virtue of failing class XII three times. “Hamara dimaag padhai mein chalta nahin hain. Jab tak archery mein arrow nishane par lag raha aur kuch nai chahiye (My brain does not function when it comes to academics. As long as my arrows hit the target, I don’t need anything else)," he says.

Kumar is the opposite of Chauhan. The serious man in the trio, he wanted to be a shooter like his Jat Regiment colleagues Hariom and Om Prakash, who are also in Incheon for shooting. Years ago in Ranchi, Kumar was spotted by an archery coach, Sunil Kumar, who felt this was his calling. So it has been.

The 4ft, 10 inches Deb has been one of the pillars of the women’s compound team. Inspired by Dola Banerjee, considered to be one of the best female archers in India, to take up the sport at the Baranagar Archery Club in Kolkata, where Banerjee trained too, Deb was dubbed a prodigy when she made the Indian recurve team as a 14-year-old. But as it often happens in the uncertain world of sport, she lost her form and subsequently her place in the team.

All comeback efforts failed, till she met Jiwanjot Singh Teja, a coach at the Punjabi University, Patiala. Teja took one look at Deb and advised her to shift to compound archery in 2010.

The difference between a recurve and compound bow is that a recurve bow has reverse curves at the end. From the handle, the bow limbs curve gracefully toward the archer, then curve away at the ends. These reverse curves, or “re-curve", give the bow its name and the design produces a faster and more powerful shot than a traditional bow of comparable draw weight.

The newer compound bow was invented in the mid-20th century. It features pulleys and/or cams on the ends of the limbs, with a long string that criss-crosses the bow multiple times. One limb usually has an elliptical cam, which produces a sudden reduction in the draw weight of the bow when a certain point is reached. Compound bows build up considerable force, which allows for a more accurate shot.

Deb shifted not only her event but also her residence; she moved from Kolkata, where her father is a clerk at an old age home, to Patiala. Two years later she was the All-India Inter-University Archery Champion in 2012, and a year later she made it to the Indian team for compound archery.

Her coach Teja says, “She comes from a very modest family. She was so earnest and wanted so badly to improve things for herself and her family. I knew she would need to shift to Patiala if I had to train her. She is short, so I felt shifting to compound would be better."

Deb, who played a major role in India winning a bronze at the World Cup in 2013 in Shanghai and again this year at the World Cup in Turkey, came into the Asian Games with little hope of an individual medal. She finished fourth in the ranking round and lost the semi-finals to 2013 Shanghai World Cup winner, Seok Ji Hyun. In the play-off for bronze, Deb trailed Taipei’s Jou Huang by five points when fate handed her a chance on a platter—Huang completely missed the target with her 14th and second last arrow.

Deb seemed more shocked than Huang and covered her face in agony. She revealed, “I was nervous. This rarely happens. With a blank, I just had to shoot safely in my two remaining shots and she had only one." Deb shot a nine and nine. Huang despite a nine on her last shot, lost out. Deb had the bronze.

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