A child prodigy, Deepika Kumari was honoured with the Arjuna Award when she was 18. At 22, after crashing out at the London Olympics, she is back at her game. Author Roopa Pai traces her journey.
(Published with permission from Roopa Pai, who first wrote this post on her Facebook wall. Photos courtesy @DDNewsLive on Twitter)
When do you earn the right to be called a prodigy? Is it when you get picked to train at the prestigious Tata Archery Academy at the age of 12? Is it when you win the under-17 World Archery Championships at age 15? Is it when you win two gold medals – one individual, one team – at the Commonwealth Games, at age 16? Is it when you win the under-20 World Archery Championships at age 17? Is it when you win the silver at the Archery World Cup at age 18 in the women’s open event? Is it when you garner, in the same year, the World No 1 slot in Women’s Recurve Archery? Is it when, later that year (yup, you’re still 18), your country honours your achievements by conferring on you its second-highest sporting recognition, the Arjuna Award?
When do other people believe they have earned the right to call you inconsistent, a choker? Is it when, barely two months after becoming World No 1, you crash out in the opening round of the individual competition at the London Olympics? Is it when, a year after you’ve won your third World Cup silver in as many appearances, you don’t make top three in a national ranking tournament?
These are not easy questions, especially for India’s superstar archer Deepika Kumari, who has been there, done all that, and is still only 22. But the girl from Ranchi, Jharkhand (a city better known for producing another sporting superstar, a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni), is hopeful that in Rio, she will lay the ghosts of London 2012, which devastated her can-do spirit and innate self-belief for way too long, to rest.
Can she do it? The portents are favourable. As recently as in April, Deepika Kumari equalled the women’s archery world record. Over the past year, she has been working on her mental toughness, with a coach who once worked with Pete Sampras. Daily yoga and pranayama sessions have taught her how to keep her heart from racing and her breathing steady during competition. Sure, her performance at the women’s team event wasn’t spectacular, but maybe, just maybe, things will go better for her today, at 1:27 am IST, when she begins her individual hunt for that elusive Olympic archery medal at the Sambodromo.
You keep your eyes on your target, girl, and we’ll keep our eyes on you.
(About the author: History buff, computer engineer and writer, Roopa Pai has lived, worked, and travelled in three continents, writing for some of India’s best known publications. She has written over 20 books, which include the 8-part fantasy-adventure series Taranauts for kids, bestseller The Gita for Children and a biography of Chanakya—The Master Statesman for adults. She also has an alternate career as a tour guide with BangaloreWalks, a heritage walks and tours company.)