Kolkata, Dec 18: Way off the mark despite the best of preparations, Indian archers were left to count the losses after a second successive disastrous Olympic campaign which threw the sport itself into disarray in a thoroughly forgettable 2016. Archers were the first to land in Rio about a month in advance to acclimatise themselves to the conditions but that hardly made a difference to their performance as they were also among the first to return home empty-handed.
Archery was one discipline which generated a lot of hype in the run-up to the Olympics and the let-down was one of the big blows to India’s hit-and-miss overall campaign of one silver and one bronze medal show in Rio 2016.
In the discipline, the biggest medal hopefuls were the women’s team of Deepika Kumari, Laishram Bombayla Devi and debutant Laxmirani Majhi but they bowed out in quarterfinals, losing to eventual silver-medallists, Russia. Also Read- Year-end special: Aditi Ashok makes 2016 a year to remember for Indian golf
Leading 4-2 against the second seeds, India needed a draw to make semis but just could not handle the nerves as they lost the fourth set where Deepika failed to match her teammates’ two perfect 10s, allowing Russia to level and wrap the issue 5-4 in the shoot-off.
The blame was back on the strong southern winds at the historical Samba Street, something that did not trouble their opponents.
Among them the duo of Bombayla and former world number one Deepika had the combined experience of five Olympics with the latter boasting of a handful of World Cup medals besides winning at every other showpiece event. But Olympics continued to be a hurdle too big for Deepika, which will keep haunt her when she gears up for Tokyo 2020 as a 26-year-old. Also Read- A look back at the year 2016: Good year for Indian paddlers, despite dismal show at Olympics
For India, the senior-most and low key Manipuri archer Bombayla impressed the most with a total score of 72 from her eight arrows including three perfect 10.
In individual section, Deepika, Bombayla and the sole male member, Atanu Das signed off in the familiar last 16 stage. The 24-year-old Das impressed the most in his maiden appearance at the biggest stage by finishing fifth in the qualification round before making a round three exit.
Till then, Satyadev Prasad had the best finish among Indians by advancing to the pre-quarters 12 years ago in Athens. An Olympic medal has eluded the Indian archers who have otherwise achieved almost every other feat, including winning a bronze at the youth level of the Summer Games, courtesy Atul Verma in Nanjing, China 2014.
They have participated in the Olympic Games since the sport was introduced in 1988 Seoul and, barring 2000 Sydney when they failed to qualify, they have competed in seven editions but still failed to win a medal.
Having burst into the limelight at a young age of 15 by becoming the cadet world champion in 2009 Ogden and two years later junior world champion, Deepika was the biggest hope.
She has more than 10 gold medals at the world level including the team and individual at the 2010 Commonwealth Games when she stunned five-time Olympian and bronze-medallist Alison Williamson of Great Britain.
By 2012 London Olympics, Deepika had transformed herself into world number one, along with her team, and it’s needless to mention that expectations skyrocketed.
But all the hype fizzled out in a few seconds when Deepika lost to Amy Oliver of Great Britain, while the team which also had Bombayala and Chekrovolu Swuro went down to Denmark, both in first rounds. Now after Rio, Deepika’s career would be at crossroads as it would be a big challenge for her to stay motivated and at the peak till Tokyo 2020.
Former AAI secretary general Paresh Nath Mukherjee, who quit after the London debacle, ending his association with the sport since 1969, first as a player and then as a non-playing captain since 1992, is critical of the archers.
“Clearly the hunger is missing in them. Once they achieve a medal at a world-level event, they are becoming complacent,” Mukherjee told PTI. “With most of the archers hailing from small towns, some glory and fame in the media is getting into them and they lose their focus from the ultimate aim of Olympics,” he said.
Their flop show in Rio may have drawn the curtains on 2016 on a sour note but the start was promising as they made a clean sweep at the South Asian Games in Shillong early in February.
Indians bagged all the five gold medals up for grabs in recurve section along with two more silver to make a clean sweep at the Polo Ground. With the compound section making its debut, India fetched an equal number of five gold and two silver and the archers supremacy meant they swelled their overall tally to 10 gold and four silver with their incredible effort.
Making a comeback after 2014 Asian Games, Tarundeep Rai retained his SA Games individual title to finish with a hat-trick of gold along with Deepika as the duo also bagged the mixed pair and their respective team events.
India’s World Cup campaign began with one silver and two bronze medals in stage one in Shanghai, while they sent a second string side to Stage two in Medellin resulting in a barren campaign.
In the build-up to the Olympics, India bagged one silver via Das and Deepika in the mixed team event at Stage three of World Cup in Antalya, while post-Rio they skipped the fourth Stage in Odense in September.
Three months after putting up a disappointing show at Rio Games, they once again drew a blank at the Indoor Archery World Cup Stage two in Bangkok earlier this month, in what was their last outing of a woeful 2016.
Barring Olympian Das, who lost to Korea’s Lee Jong Young in the bronze-medal playoff match, none of the other 26 Indians could make the medal rounds. In the women’s section, Deepika made a first-round exit going down to teammate Majhi who fell by the wayside in second round.
Another Rio Games participant Bombayla was also ousted in the first round losing to Korean Eun Jung Kom 1-7. On personal front, Deepika will, however, remember 2016 for being awarded the Padmashree, while compound archer Rajat Chauhan received the Arjuna earlier this year.