Deepika Kumari interview: From shunning film offer to finding form with recent World Cup archery gold

The smile is back, there is a leap in her voice and a swagger in her stride. The World Cup gold medal in Salt Lake, USA, last week, has ensured that India’s star archer Deepika Kumari is back with a bang, ending her frustratingly long win-less streak which stretched for over six years. “It was a big relief and came at the right time as I was getting frustrated with my current form. I was not getting the desired results in the last few events. Unlike other tournaments where the spotlight is always on me, there were no expectations and this helped me to give my best,’’ says Deepika in an exclusive chat with Firstpost as she gets ready for the Berlin World Cup next week which will be followed by the Asian Games.

Indian archer Deepika Kumari beat German Michelle Kronner to qualify for the circuit final later this year. Twitter@worldarchery

Indian archer Deepika Kumari beat German Michelle Kronner to qualify for the circuit final later this year. Twitter@worldarchery

The 24-year-old had last won an individual gold in a World Cup way back in 2012 while her last podium in an individual event finish came three years ago when she bagged a bronze in the World Cup in Turkey in 2015. "When you are not winning for a long time, negativity creeps in and you are shrouded by self-doubt. That’s why in the last few months, I have been working with the mental conditioning coach Mugdha Bavare and she has played a key role in helping me to get out of the rut," she adds. "The thought of giving it all up crossed my mind but the love of archery, the determination to fightback kept me going in these difficult times.’’

Though she failed to script much success on the archery arena in recent times, the poster girl of Indian archery was all set to don the grease paint and star in a Hindi movie Bisahi. The lady with the magic fingers on the arrows was to play the lead in a story revolving around the evil practice of witch-hunting. “Initially I was very excited to star in the movie. I was struggling with my form and I wanted to give acting a try. The shooting was being planned in the month of March this year but then I realised if I plunged into the world of celluloid, I would lose focus on archery. It was an important year with the Asian Games slated in August and I desperately wanted to turn around my fortunes in the sport. So I finally rejected the offer."

The victory in Salt Lake vindicated her decision to not dump archery for her Bollywood dreams and this title triumph has ensured that she will also feature in the World Cup finals later this year- the most prestigious archery event pitting the top archers around the world.

“My focus is the Asian Games. There has not been much success from the recurve archers in recent times and the Indian team returned empty handed at the last edition in Incheon. So there is plenty at stake,’’ asserts Deepika, a veteran of two Olympics. Currently ranked number five in the world, the archer from Ranchi will be India’s brightest medal hope in the individual event. With experienced Bombayla Devi failing to make it to the Asian Games squad, the Indian women’s team comprises two youngsters Ankita Bhagat, Promila Daimary along with the experienced duo of Laxmirani Majhi and Deepika herself. “As far as the women’s team event is concerned, we are still a work in progress. Building a potent combination requires some time and we have some new faces. They have talent but still lacks experience.’’

A daughter of an auto rickshaw driver, the tale of Deepika’s spectacular journey from humble beginning in a village in Jharkhand to become the world’s number one ranked archer had been recently aired on Netflix titled Ladies First as part of this year’s Women’s Day. Despite creating waves in the international circuit as a prodigious teenager, Deepika’s performances in the two Olympics have been disappointing. Ranked world number one in lead up to the London Olympics in 2012 and tipped to be one of the firm favourites, Deepika crashed out in the first round. Four years later in Rio, she flopped once again making an early exit.

“Maybe I could not cope up with the pressure and made mistakes at crucial junctures of the matches allowing the momentum to shift. Therefore the role of the psychologist is so important in training. Mental strength will be my main focus in the next two years,’’ says Deepika about her Tokyo 2020 dreams.

Former international archer Dola Banerjee who has participated in several events alongside Deepika believes the Jharkhand archer is still India’s best medal hope in any international event. “She is a very hard worker with great technique. But the new scoring system puts a lot of emphasis on the mental strength of an archer and that is where many of our Indian archers like Deepika are losing out,’’ explains the Commonwealth Games gold medallist and World Cup final winner.

The earlier scoring system during head to head match ups included 12 arrows being shot by each of the two participants and the top scorer going on to win the match. This has been replaced by matches of five sets. Each set consists of three arrows and the winner of the set gets 2 points. Each of the archers get one point apiece for a drawn set. “The fact that you are starting a new set after every three shots means the opponent can make comebacks at any time and one has to be very strong mentally," feels Dola.

Deepika is confident that the victory in Salt Lake was no flash in the pan and the win will be the stepping stone for more resounding success in the months ahead.

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Updated Date: Jul 14, 2018 18:40:46 IST

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