The Indian archers’ best-ever collection of nine medals, including five gold, enabled the country to top the Hangzhou Asian Games chart in the sport and establish itself as a superpower alongside South Korea. Archery fetched the most podium finishes after athletics and shooting, contributing significantly to India’s 100-plus medal milestone.
The archers, especially from the non-Olympic compound division, had done exceedingly well in major competitions like World Cups and World Championships over the past year, which helped them carry a positive momentum into the Asiad. Their superlative performance, which eclipsed the previous best showing of four medals in 2014, was also way better than the two silver medals in Bangkok five years ago.
The 2023 contingent ended up doing the unthinkable: pushing South Korea, which gathered 11 medals, including four gold, to the second position. The East Asian country has been ruling archery competitions since 1982.
The success story of Indian archery is an outcome of a multi-pronged approach that involves a sound domestic circuit (featuring National Ranking Tournaments and Khelo India events), international exposure and training, state-of-the-art facilities, rigorous and continuous assessment (including non-performance trials), and the hiring of foreign experts and scientific support staff (such as sports performance and neuroscience experts, psychologists, physiotherapists, physiologists, anthropometrics, nutritionists, strength and conditioning experts, and video analysts) for the archers.
“You can’t find a second sport where they conduct trials for non-performers. The message is clear—perform or perish. Some archers cribbed about the regular trials, but ultimately it helped. Experienced archers such as Atanu Das and Abhishek Verma came back strongly after performing below par in the trials,” said high-performance director Sanjeeva Singh.
“Earlier, the junior archers never got any exposure. Their international exposure has improved the bench strength, and they are challenging and upstaging the seniors. Now, there is no scope for complacency.”
In compound, India got seven medals, with the seasoned V. Jyothi Surekha and young world champion Ojas Deotale claiming triple crowns apiece, including individual titles, their respective teams, and mixed team gold medals. It contributed to a never-before moment of India sweeping all five gold medals!
While Jyothi and teenage World champion Aditi Swami, who took an individual bronze, claimed two spots on the women’s podium, Deotale and silver medallist Verma secured the top two places in the men’s individual competition.
The established trio, including the decorated Jyothi, and the promising duo of Aditi and Parneet Kaur repeated their feats from the Berlin World Championships and Paris World Cup Stage-4 in Hangzhou, while the set combination of Deotale, Verma, and Prathamesh Jawkar recreated their Paris World Cup moment.
According to Sanjeeva, foreign compound coach Sergio Pagni, who trained the athletes to go for the kill, had a significant role to play. “Sergio worked on the technical side as well as team bonding.
“The compound archers came into the event full of confidence. The star of the show was Ojas, who kept the environment lighter with his jovial and happy-go-lucky nature. The compound team is enjoying their archery. We encouraged everyone to talk to each other to help them relax and come and go in a group. Now the recurve archers are trying to enjoy their game.”
The extraordinary showing of the Indian compound archers will hold them in good stead in case the event makes its Olympic debut at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
The recurve archers of the country also improved their performance, bagging men’s and women’s team bronze medals. Medals in the Olympic discipline broke a 13-year-long barren phase for India at the Asiad and provided some encouragement for the country in the run-up to the Paris Olympics next year.
Atanu Das, B. Dhiraj, and Tushar Shelke pocketed the men’s team bronze, while the combination of Bhajan Kaur, Simranjeet Kaur, and Ankita Bhakat took the women’s bronze medal.
Even though Korean coach Baek Woongki would be happy with the two recurve medals, he would also be eager to check the archers’ inconsistency.
“Our individual performance in recurve was not up to par. We have to learn to score more 10s to win at the highest level. There are two important factors, the technical side and the mindset, that need to improve,” said Sanjeeva.
Sanjeeva, an Arjuna and Dronacharya award winner, also underlined that India has a dearth of archers with ideal body structure, which affects the technique a lot for recurve competitions. “It affects the angles, and scores go down.
“In compound, some of the technical shortcomings get compensated because of the mechanical nature of the bow,” said Sanjeeva, giving a reason for the wide gulf between the performances of the compound and recurve archers.
Nevertheless, this is the time to bask in the unprecedented glory of the Indian archers at the Asiad. And it would be unfair not to mention the well-rounded support by the Sports Authority of India and the financial backing of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in lifting the overall standards of Indian archery.