By Ajai Masand
New Delhi, July 16 | At 16, Deepika Kumari had established herself as the country’s ace recurve archer, winning gold in individual and team events at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
At 18, the daughter of an auto driver and nurse in the Ranchi Medical College was the winner of world cup gold. She was then the top-ranked archer in the world, aiming to become the country’s youngest sportsperson to win an Olympic medal in 2012 London.
However, nerves, strong winds, and poor health saw Deepika make a quick exit, bowing out in the opening round to a home team archer. Since then, Deepika has been at the forefront of Indian archery, seamlessly taking over the lead role from Dola Banerjee, with whom she won the team gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
But over the years, Deepika, while winning world cup medals aplenty, has found cracking the Asian Games and Olympics riddle tough. Deepika’s overall tally of nine gold, 12 silver, and seven bronze in the world cups stands in sharp contrast to her poor run in continental and global multi-discipline showpiece events.
More than a decade of competing at the top level and having represented the country in two Olympics, this could be Deepika’s best chance of clinching a medal – or medals – as she will be competing in two categories in Tokyo – individual and mixed team.
She will pair with her husband Atanu Das in the mixed team event, which will make its debut in Tokyo. The expectations are high because Deepika is in the best form of her career. A fortnight back, Deepika, 27, bagged three gold medals — women’s individual, team, and mixed pair – in the World Cup Stage 3 in Paris late last month to reclaim the No.1 spot in the world.
Deepika’s sterling performance in Paris could be attributed to the fact that she secured the Tokyo Olympic quota in 2019, and because of the postponement of the Games by a year, she got one extra year to prepare for the showpiece event.
While luck will play a major role in her success, given that the Koreans and Japanese will be tough as ever, the experience of the last two Olympics and the confidence gained from a hattrick of gold medals in Paris could make it a third-time lucky for the Indian archer.