Misfiring archers face uncertain future after poor 2012
Kolkata: Way off the mark in the London Olympics, future is tense for India`s much-hyped archers after a woeful 2012 during which the Sports Ministry derecognised the association for election irregularities.
Lack of planning came to fore in their debacle at the London Olympics as the six-member contingent, boasting of world number one Deepika Kumari, drew a blank at the Games.
In a sport that requires fine precision, the archers peaked exactly a month before the Olympics when the men`s team won the quota places in the World Cup Stage III.
From there, it was downward slide, as the archers could not guard against complacency and made their exits in either round one or two of the Olympics.
India had hoped for at least two medals -- one in the women`s individual through Deepika and the second from the men`s trio of Tarundeep Rai, Jayanta Talukdar and Rahul Banerjee who had shown fine form at the qualifiers in Ogden a month back.
But London came as a rude jolt.
Deepika made a first round exit, ditto for Chekrovolu Swuro, while Laishram Bombayla Devi, in her second Olympic appearance advanced to second round of 32. As a team, they failed to go beyond round of 16.
The men`s team suffered a similar fate, bowing out in the first round, the prequarters, while in the individual event, India`s best bet, Jayanta Talukdar, qualified as 53rd seed and went down in the first round.
The other two members, Tarundeep Rai and Rahul Banerjee, could cross the first round hurdle but were thrashed by their respective opponents in the second round of 32.
India had earned the quota places in the women`s section through the World Championship in July last year, a year before the Olympics, but the Archery Association of India had jumped the gun announcing that the same trio of Deepika, Bombayla and Chekrovolu would go to London.
In a sport that demands current form, the Archery Association of India`s policy did not work and the archers form had dipped when it mattered most.
The debacle left team`s manager and AAI Secretary General Paresh Nath Mukherjee shattered and he resigned immediately after London.
AAI convened a meeting and tried to persuade Mukherjee but he remained firm, ending his association with archery for more than 30 years.
There was more setback for Indian archery as it got murkier with the AAI elections when VK Malhotra won for an astonishing 10th term, in clear violation of sports code that restricts the number of terms to three and the age limit to 70.
Malhotra, 81, became the longest running sports body chief, having been at the helm of the AAI for 40 years.
But for the first time since 1973, Malhotra, who had been elected unopposed all these years, had to contest in an AAI elections against Assam unit vice-president BVP Rao, a former IAS and UN official.
Malhotra won convincingly but Rao`s challenge did bring to fore some dissidents in the AAI.
There were more mess in store when the government withdrew recognition to AAI for violating the sports code and election irregularities.
Indian archers do not have a head coach now with the exit of Limba Ram post London while the practice at SAI has been stopped since then.
"There`s darkness looming large," Limba said about the archery mess.
"We had so much talent coming in but now we have to start afresh...I hope it`s sorted out at the earliest. If they don`t play, what would be their future in archery? Somebody has to come forward. Otherwise may God save archery."
In such a scenario, Sahara India, who were sponsoring archery, may pull out next year when the contract is up for renewal.
Amid all the negativity, there was a silver-lining from Ranchi teenager Deepika as she recovered from the London debacle to win a silver in the World Final held one month after the Olympics.
In fact, she came very close to win the World Cup Final in Tokyo as she was leading 4-0 in her first appearance post-London. But an error of judgement led to her downfall as Olympic double gold-medallist Ki Bo Bae rallied past Deepika.
Basking in the glory of the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, the Indian archers started 2012 on promising note.
As the London Olympics drew closer, India had another high in the World Cup Stage II in Turkey when Deepika won her maiden international gold medal at senior level as she climbed to number one in the rankings.
The men`s team also showed promise ahead of their last qualification round for the Olympics as they finished silver in the World Cup Stage II.
But those remained the only few high points of Indian archery in a forgettable 2012.