Deepika Kumari shines in good year for archery
Kolkata: A 17-year-old Deepika Kumari shone with some outstanding performances as the women`s recurve team emerged as strong contenders for an elusive Olympic medal in archery during a year that was witness to the dramatic fall of the fancied men`s team.
Stunning world champions Korea in the semifinals of the biennial World Championships, the trio of Deepika, Laishram Bombayla Devi and Chekrovolu Swuro not only grabbed full quota berths for the London Olympics but became overwhelming favourites to win a first-ever medal in the mega-event next year.
The daughter of an autorickshaw driver from Ranchi, Deepika porved to be a prodigal talent with her rapid progress in 2011.
The 2009 cadet world champion became the first Indian to win back to back world titles when she won the junior women`s individual recurve, capping the year with two dozen international medals (two gold, six silver and four bronze).
A fine show in the four stages of the World Cups earned the teenager a place in the coveted World Finals but she faltered in the shoot off to settle for a silver.
The flop show by the men`s recurve team was unprecedented but Indian archery made rapid progress in the compound section as they clinched 40 medals (13-16-11) at various international competitions, including 12 from Deepika.
There was also a significant contribution by the fringe archers in the third Asian Grand Prix in Dhaka where India bagged eight gold, three silver and a bronze medal.
In fact, India could have added to their tally but the archers ended 2011 on a disappointing note when a poor show of two bronze medals in the biennial Asian Championship pushed them to ninth from a second place finish in 2009. Barring Jayanta Talukdar, who bagged an individual quota place for Olympics, the men`s recurve team had an extremely forgettable year.
Having started the year as world number one, the men`s side faltered after World Cup Stage 1 in which they bagged a silver, their only contribution to the medals tally.
As the experienced duo of Asian Games silver-medallist Tarundeep Rai and Commonwealth Games bronze-medallist Rahul Banerjee faltered in World Cup Stage 2 and suffered first round loss in the World Championships, the federation struggled to find teammates for a steady Talukdar.
The Archery Association of India (AAI) tried youngsters in Thupuvoyi Swuro (Nagaland), Atanu Das (SPSB) and Vishwas (Services) but success eluded the men`s team, even as Talukdar excelled individually.
Having won two Commonwealth Games gold medals (individual and team) in the previous year, Deepika had a slow start to the year, losing to Prativa Boro of Assam at her home turf of Ranchi in the National Games.
She slowly gained form and tasted success in the Stage 2 of World Cup in Antalya (June) when she won two silver medals -- mixed doubles with Talukdar and in team along with Bombayla and Chekrovolu. A month later at the World Championship Turin, the women`s trio created history in a double-bonanza of sorts.
Deepika, Bombayla and Chekrovolu booked the three Olympic quota places, upsetting defending champions Korea 216-212 to make their maiden entry into the final. Never before had an Indian women`s team entered the final of a World Championship as the best so far was a fourth-place finish by an Indian women`s team in Madrid 2005.
The Indian men`s team had made the final and settled for silver in Madrid but only to suffer a first round loss this time around. Amid the flopshow by Rai and Banerjee, Talukdar stood tall earning his Olympic quota place in the individual recurve event when he beat Antti Tekoniemi of Finland 6-4. The men`s team will have their last chance to bag quota places when they compete in the Stage 3 of World Cup in Ogden from June 17-23, just a month before London Olympics.
In the final against home favourites Italy, the women`s team had a one-point lead at the midway stage but only to go down 207-210 to settle for a silver.
But the win over Korea in the semifinals was the talking point of the year as the trio emerged as the best bet in archery in next year`s Olympics.
Deepika contributed three medals to India`s haul of four in the Stage 3 of the World Cup in Ogden (August). She also won the silver in the recurve women`s individual event, with Bombayla Devi and Chekrovolu for her second silver. She achieved a hat-trick of silver medals pairing up with Talukdar in the mixed event.
The fourth medal came through compound women`s team of Jhano Hansdah, Manjudha Soy and Gagandeep Kaur who won the country their first ever silver medal in a World Cup event.
In the fourth and final stage of the World Cup (Shanghai, September), the women`s recurve archers emerged bigger and stronger, picking up the team gold and an individual bronze with Deepika forming the backbone of the side.
Continuing their rapid progress in compound section, the men`s team of Chittiboma Jignas, Chinnaraju Srither and Khuraijam Ratan Singh also won their first ever international silver medal.
In the same month, the 32 best archers of the world gathered in Istanbul for the World Cup final with Deepika as India`s sole entry.
Deepika began her campaign with a bang, scalping France`s Berengere Schuh 6-0, the Beijing Olympic Games bronze medallist and individual European champion in 2008.
But the 17-year-old lost out under pressure situation in the shoot-off in final, going down 5-6 for a silver.
It was a sad end to a magnificent 2011 for Indians when after yet another flopshow by the men`s recurve team they ended the year with two bronze medals in the Asian Championship held in Tehran in October.
India who had bagged six medals (2-2-2) in 2009 Asian Championships for a second place finish below Korea in the standings, slipped to ninth place with women`s recurve and compound teams bagging one bronze each.