Indian archery still far from bull’s eye

January 21st, 2009 - 3:13 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 21 (IANS) Indian archery has taken some decent strides in recent years, but it still has a fair distance to go to be acknowledged as a powerhouse on the global arena.The sport with a rich tradition is on the upswing in the country with more and more talented youngsters trying to make a mark internationally. The Indians can now stand eyeball-to-eyeball with world-class archers from South Korea, China and Japan in the region.

Indian archers have long been labelled chokers as nerves got the better of them at major tournaments, though their performances in various international tournaments in the last couple of years - winning a number of gold and silver medals - show a remarkable improvement.

Looking at the excellent scores recorded by most Indian archers in training, matching the world’s best, they give the impression that they are easily the best in the business. But somehow, they just cannot replicate the scores where it matters most, the big tournaments.

Look at Limba Ram. He was tipped to win a medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but missed out on the bronze by a whisker. Satyadev Yadav met with the same fate at the Athens Games and in Beijing, World Champion Dola Banerjee failed to make the cut for the women’s finals. Mangal Singh Champia, too, raised hopes of a Beijing medal by finishing second in the ranking round, but lost in the pre-quarters.

Part of the reason for the stage fright is, perhaps, the archers’ background. Most of them are tribals, hailing from far-flung areas. They hone their skills on traditional bamboo bows and arrows. Most of them switch to sleek ultramodern gear only when they get to the international level. Importantly, almost all of them take to sport to secure a job and settle down in life. Once that is done, their focus often shifts from the sport.

“Fifty percent of our talented archers are from tribal areas and the sudden lifestyle changes do affect them,” says Paresh Nath Mukherjee, general secretary of the Archery Association of India (AAI).

“The expectations rise as they perform well at the international level and that proves to be counter-productive, making them complacent.”

In the last five years the AAI has introduced prize money ranking tournaments throughout the country as an incentive for better competition. India has since bagged a handful of medals at the international level.

Youngsters are bucking up. Jayanta Talukdar, Tarundeep Rai and Rahul Banerjee have shown that they can challenge global leaders. India finished second to the mighty Koreans at the 2005 World Championship and are the reigning men’s Asian Champions. In the 2008 junior world championship, Vardhineni Pranitha won a silver.

India came up well in the recurve section at the world level but are way behind in the compound section.

Players feel long-term planning is required for them to perform consistently at the international stage. The international archery calendar is packed with events for 10 months and there are any number of events in the region, including the five Asian Grand Prix competitions, the third of which is in India in May.

“We are doing well at international meets in the last three-four years, but the results have not been consistent. You cannot win an Olympic medal by winning one or two events. There should be long-term planning. See how Korea and China, the top nations in the sport, plan for four years,” says Dola.

Dola says the prize money tournaments started by the AAI are highly motivational but the number has gone down.

“In 2003-04, there were six prize money tournaments. But slowly the money got reduced and last year there was only one tournament. Earlier, the winner used to get Rs.25,000 and now it is Rs.7,000-10,000. One of the reasons we did well in that period was because these tournaments motivated us to perform. But now it has been reduced to just selection trials.”

Like other Olympic sports in India, funds and sponsors have been a problem for the archers too.

“Money is very important. Most of the archers are from humble families and it is not possible for them to fund the costly equipment,” Dola says.

For starters, an archery bow can cost Rs.8,000 and a quality one costs about Rs.200,000. The arrows also need to be changed regularly.

The AAI has its reason for the dwindling number of prize-money tournaments.

“The number of international tournaments has gone up. There is no point in holding more tournaments at home when top archers are away competing elsewhere in the world. Our immediate focus is the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The government is providing money for training and we will have separate camps for that,” says Mukherjee.

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