Despite the cool breeze blowing across the port city of Samsun in Turkey, Abhishek Verma was feeling the heat. His preparations for the season-ending World Cup Final, the most prestigious archery event of the year, were not ideal.
The World Cup Final pits the world’s top eight archers based on their performance throughout the season, archery’s equivalent of the Tour Final of tennis or the Super Series final in badminton where only top eight ranked players get to compete.
The mentally taxing and physically gruelling Asian Games got over in the first week of September which meant the Indian archer had very little time to train for the big event. And it did not help that the coach of the Indian compound archery team — Jiwanjot Singh Teja — had quit a few days before he was supposed to board the flight to Turkey, protesting against his Dronacharya Award snub.
But then the 29-year-old Verma, no stranger to fighting against the odds, pulled off a spirited performance bagging a bronze in the individual event and then teamed with Jyothi Surekha Vennam to bag a silver in the mixed team event.
Verma had bagged medals in all the four World Cups this year (at Berlin, Salt Lake City, Anatalya and Shanghai) either in individual or the mixed team event.
“A medal in the World Cup final is always very special because it means you have earned your stripes against the very best in the world,” says Verma who had won a silver in the 2015 World Cup Final in Mexico City. “Since compound archery is not an Olympic sport, it never gets the attention it deserves. So every time I step into the archery field with my bows and arrows, be it at the Asian Games, World Cup or the World Cup final, I am desperate for a medal, hoping my achievement will grab the headlines and help to lift the profile of the sport,” he adds.
The New Delhi lad created an upset in his first match up against the defending champion Braden Gellenthien of the USA in a nerve-wracking contest where the scores were tied 144-144 after the end of 15 shots. In the shoot-out, Verma hit two perfect tens against the American’s two nines to march into the semi-final.
In the battle for a place in the final, the Indian was up against home-grown hero Demir Elmaagacli. Verma had a score to settle against the Turkish archer as it was Elmaagacli who had edged past him in the summit showdown of the World Cup Final three years ago. But the Turkish archer proved to be his nemesis yet again as Verma went down narrowly 145-147.
“At this level of contest, there is not much separating the two. Someone had to lose and unfortunately it was me and I do not feel I was done in by nerves,” feels Verma.
In the bronze medal play-off, Verma squared off against Kim Jongho of South Korea. Jongho was part of the Asian Games gold medal winning men’s Korean team which had beaten India, led by Verma, in the final. Verma was in imperious form hitting a lone nine and logging perfect 10s in all the remaining fourteen shots to win with a 149-147 scoreline. “Victory over Kim was sweet, but the fact that I scored 149, the highest score amongst all competitors in the event, was truly memorable,” he says.
Capping off a memorable year with multiple medals in World Cups, the World Cup Final and the Asian Games, Verma is now bracing himself for a tougher assignment. “I have delivered with the bows and arrows this year, but now I have to get cracking with the administrative work to convince the government to fund my training for the next year.”
With the archery federation derecognised by the government, the onus is on the archers to seek funds for their future tours and arrange for foreign coaches. “Though compound archery will not feature in the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games, we will urge the government not to withdraw the funding for the compound archers from the TOPS scheme which was provided keeping in mind the Asian Games. Hope my medals are a strong reasons why we should continue to get financial support.’’
The rise in fortunes of compound archery has coincided with a sharp dip in the performance of recurve archers in the country. Even from the Asian Games, the recurve archers had returned empty-handed. “Representing the country in Olympics is always a dream for any sportsperson, but I do not want to dump my first love, compound archery, and switch to recurve.”
A change in the format requires plenty of technical adjustments as compound archery is considered a more mechanised form of archery, where a pulley system is used to draw the bow.
“It is natural that I also have the urge of taking part in the Olympics and during this off-season, I am looking to try my hand in shooting. Both archery and shooting involves your skills in hitting a target and hopefully I will able to cope up with the challenge. I do not want to take it up seriously immediately, but I am looking to explore the sport, with an eye on the Olympics,” reveals Verma, signing off trying to grapple with another daunting task at hand — finding a vegetarian restaurant at Samsun to celebrate the medals with his teammates and support staff.
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Updated Date: Sep 30, 2018 15:08:33 IST