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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Can't wait for Olympics to start: Deepika

A little more than eight kilometers away from the traffic-clogged streets of Ranchi, nestled in the nameless by-lanes of Ratu Chati, stands a humble house that is home to one of India’s brightest Olympic hopes. It was here that archer Deepika Kumari learnt to confront life’s toughest battles long before she held a bow and arrow.

Deepika Kumari

It was here that her family of five had to count pennies and separate the essential from the important, forget luxurious. It was here that her parents slept many-a-night on empty stomachs so that their three children could at least indulge in the modest meal of rice. It was here that she first learnt to dream.The walls may be plastered over now, but they still bear testimony to the struggles of the family. After he lost his shop-keeping business, her father worked as an auto-rickshaw driver and her mother as a nurse, which meant that school fees and bills remained pending for months at end.Consequently, Deepika’s education was limited to a private Hindi-medium school, whose only persistent memory is a rather bad beating at the hands of a teacher. With an over-protective mother who would not let Deepika out of her sight, the frustrated 14-year-old began to seek an outlet. It was at this time that she got introduced to archery, when she first got to watch her cousin practice with a bamboo bow and arrows. It was through her that she came to know of academies and training and competitions. However, more than anything else it was the thought of getting three meals a day that propelled her to join the Saraikela Archery Academy in 2007.”I wanted to escape from home,” says the class XII student of KMCT College. “It would be one less mouth to feed for my parents who were always struggling.”Her 10-month long stay neither delivered the promise of food nor facilities. However, not one to complain she looked for other avenues. In the March of 2008 at a state selection meet, Purnima Mahato, International Archery Championship gold medallist and coach of Tata Archery Academy (TAA), spotted the quiet girl with dimples in her cheeks, nerves of steel and the focus of Zen.”I saw this frail-looking, 5-foot something, shy girl. You could easily make the mistake of dismissing her,” Mahato told TOI. “But once she picks up her bow and arrow, you notice her wide shoulders, her long limbs – very essential for archery, and more than that her focus, which was very rare for someone so young.”It was only after she joined the TAA that archery became a passion for Deepika. “After I won my first Youth World Cup gold as a cadet, I saw my dream. It was not only about getting fed or clothed. It was about excellence and achievement,” says the 17-year-old.Over the last few months, the double CWG gold medallist has harboured a new dream, a bigger goal: Olympic glory. Exactly a month after grabbing the country’s attention with her World Cup gold-winning performance in Turkey, Deepika appears more excited than nervous about her outing at the London Games. “It’s funny I am so excited. I am almost afraid that I’ll blink and miss the experience. I can’t wait for it to start,” says the World No. 3.And for all the unpredictability of archery, she is confident of returning with medals. “Olympics are the biggest deal for any athlete and I am not coming back empty-handed. I can’t promise gold, but I will get a podium finish.”It is with this goal in her mind that she spends eight hours and 400 arrows daily, practising with her team in Sikkim. Having increased the poundage of her bow a mere six months back, she is putting in extra hours to work on the chinks. And helping her perfect her form is TAA’s South Korean coach Lim Chae Woong. “I have never been to Lord’s and I’m completely unfamiliar with the weather in England. I expect it to be windy, that is why it was necessary to increase the poundage for better stability.”Earlier this year, it was under Woong’s supervision that Deepika and her academy mate Jayanta Talukdar spent a little more than a month in South Korea fine-tuning their skills alongside the world’s best. “It was a great opportunity for both of us. There is so much you can learn just by watching world-class archers,” she explained.Coach and mentor Mahato adds: “Her best asset is her ability to focus and remain confident even in the face of defeat at some of the noisiest venues in the world,” she adds.”Being the youngest of the lot, she becomes the butt of jokes here. But on the range, her demeanour and commitment show maturity way beyond her years,” says Mahato, who has been a mother figure for the archer. “I have the faith that London will be good.”A week shy of turning 18, Deepika, who won bronze at the Asian Games, has no special plans for the day. Neither does she expect any gifts at the Olympics. “I have to conquer the wind at Lord’s first. I am doing everything I can to make India a proud country. If I can win a medal in London, it will be the best gift ever.”Till that time, her satisfaction lies in the fact that she has mended the fortunes of her broken home and moved on to add to the honour of her homeland.

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