Rainy-unsettling winds and big-stage bumbles; clucking tongues of critics and return journeys without medals. Deepika Kumari has gone through them all in the last decade. Every time the expectations soared – based on results leading up to an Olympics – Deepika was catapulted into that cauldron of bubbling hope. A prodigious recurve, Deepika would take on more tension than the 40-42 poundage of the bowstring on her shoulders. A wilting on the biggest stages would follow in the big pressure matches, and she never quite strung together slick words to parry away the media scrutiny.
Moreover, in a sport color coding your precision over concentric circles and assigning points in a jiffy, nobody quite understood the forlorn figure at the shooting station. Heading into her third Olympics though, Deepika has brought a fair amount of emotion to the show: happier emotions.
And you could see it when she won the individual gold at the Guatemala World Cup on Sunday.
Shooting the final individual recurve, Deepika thrice found herself in a crunch over the last three days of the event. But she’d compose herself into stillness to let the technique and muscle memory take over. Then she would turn around to the coach who would validate with a ‘badhiyaa.’ And she’d beam away a relieved grin and guffaw to the team standing behind her.
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She was taking her time alright. But she was pulling out the solid arrows that got the job done – be it in team or individual.
An unlikely sight of the once teenager, who grew up in front of an expectant country, trying to squeeze a medal out of her prodigious talent, now beginning to enjoy the pressure.
Speaking to The Indian Express during lockdown last year, Deepika said “I know my high level at competitions. I’m not worried about social media videos of my rivals training in their backyards through lockdowns while we are indoors. When competitions come, I’ll show my high level to the world. ”
Keeping the fletches from falling into disrepair was her only concern. Marriage to fellow archer Atanu Das and sessions with psychologists also helped yield confidence.
The Koreans – Kang Chae Young, Jang Monger and the top-ranked An San – holders of the 1400 FITA record and compulsive champions are not easy to break through. Deepika’s edge though is that she’s been in every wretched conceivable scenario. Overcoming those performance demons, she is now embracing the pressure.
Up against American Mackenzie Brown in the gold medal final, she led 3-1 before Brown leveled proceedings. But undeterred, Deepika would ring in a 29 before the decisive arrow fetched up.
She’d later say her heart was beating quite audibly, scaring her into nervousness. But there was no twitchy wreckage this time, as she’d send the arrow top right, just millimeters out of the 10 circle. Brown got a 9 too, but further away – giving the Indian her third World Cup title. It came just a few hours after she helped India to a gold in the team event – striking a spectacular 10 for the win.
“She’s confident because of the experience now,” says former Olympian Dola Banerjee. “She was always very determined to correct her mistakes, whether technically or mentally. Very dedicated and obsessive. But now she’s shooting like a team captain, like a senior should. Calmly.
“Maybe it’s meditation, maybe work with a mental trainer. But I also think she’s happy being in the Indian camp with her group and they travel and compete together. The camaraderie is helping her. She just needs to stay motivated. ” Deepika was definitely buoyed by the achievement.
“It’s been a long time since I shot in the finals. It feels great and, at the same time, I’m happy and nervous. It gives me confidence and pushes me to give better performances, ”she told World Archery.
Perfect score for Atanu
While Deepika has found her peace, men’s recurve Atanu Das found his roar against Spain’s Daniel Castro.
The Spaniard was shooting a good consistent range. But there was not much he could do when Das pushed up a level in the fifth set to hit a Perfect 30 to win his first World Cup. “It feels amazing,” the 29-year-old says. “I have been working for many years and now this is paying off.
“I just gave my best. I didn’t think about the future or the past, just present. It’s beautiful. It’s a big boost for me ahead of the Olympics. I’m working the right way. ”