London Olympics 2012: Indian archers off the mark

Feroz Khan

“But all is not lost. Our archers have the talent to turn it around in the next few days."

These were the words of Indian archery coach Limba Ram after a lukewarm show by his wards in the ranking round of the men`s and women`s team event. To his disappointment, there wasn`t a fairy tale ending. The men`s team lost in a close shoot-out to Japan while the women`s team, ranked second best in the world, fared no better losing to Denmark in the first round itself at the London 2012 Olympics.

From the team event the focus swiftly shifted to the individual competition and the outcome was no different.

Prior to the unfolding of events at London, during a send-off ceremony held recently in the capital before the Indian archers departed for London; Jayanta Talukdar, Rahul Banerjee, Tarundeep Rai, Deepika Kumari were the hot property. The emcee too reserved the loudest of her cheers for world number one Deepika Kumari while introducing her. Not just the players, but the coach was also busy giving long interviews to the ever demanding journalists eager to know how well prepared were the archers and how strong was India`s bid to claim its first ever Olympic medal in the competition.

The confidence of the archers was palpable. It was a result of a year of positive results in various prestigious international events, particularly for the teenage girl from Ranchi who had just won her first ever gold medal in the World Cup individual recurve event defeating a Korean in the final earlier in May.

All this led to media hype— of course this time based on a solid foundation— that brought these athletes in the spotlight usually reserved for cricketers in India. This was the first time since Athens Games that the Indian archers had managed to grab all the six quota places for the Olympics. Naturally, the expectations were high.

However, doubts were also being raised about the certainty of an elusive Olympic medal even by the archers themselves in a game where Indians have won laurels all over the world but for the quadrennial extravaganza. One of the prime reasons behind this was cited to be the weather.

So to leave no stone unturned, a conditioning camp in Gangtok, where the team practised to get familiar with the soppy and windy London weather, was organised.

But all in vain as with each passing day since the dazzling opening ceremony, one by one, each archer succumbed to a defeat eventually dashing hopes of a medal. The reason pointed out ranged from health to squally conditions at the Lord`s stadium and combined with some erratic performances, pressure mounted and finally it took its toll. Even medal hopeful Deepika was off-colour in both the team and individual event.

It was said that the team matched the world in terms of technique but lagged behind in mental edge that had proved to be its thorn before. The presence of a psychologist this time in the team was aimed at bridging the gap.

Everything was on board for a fitting finale at the 30th Olympics for Indian archers. Alas, it was to be an anti-climax.

Even though Deepika Kumari is no stranger to big events, the nerves might have got the better of her. However, she is just 18 and will have more chances to redeem herself.

Taking nothing away from the archers, credit should be given to them for their consistent performances that had created this buzz and instilled a hope among the fans. Certainly, glory at London would have been the ultimate reward but instead of ruing over the missed chances, the way forward is to search for the answers as to what went wrong even after everything was in place and devise a mechanism to deal with it and who else to learn from other than the traditional powerhouse of the sport - South Korean.

Their extreme training and meticulous preparations preceding the London Games reportedly involved practicing in a military base camp, a six-hour walk during a winter night with temperature in the negative among others. All of this aimed at increasing the concentration level and competitive spirit. No wonder they have won 15 of the 24 gold medals in the past six Olympics.