On a rainy morning here at the Fuyang Yinhu Sports Center, the Indian archers made it rain medals. And the Indian duo – Jyothi Surekha Vennam and Ojas Pravin Deotale – which kickstarted the gold rush in archery as a mixed team, completed an unprecedented full set at the Asian Games on Saturday.
Jyothi defeated South Korea’s So Chae-won 149-145 to claim an individual gold to go with her women’s team gold and Ojas overcame compatriot Abhishek Verma 149-147 to complete his treble, including the men’s team gold he won alongside Abhishek.
And both Jyothi and Ojas dropped one 9 in their respective finals, displaying their ruthless precision. It’s quite remarkable how India’s successful Asiad campaign has been built around these two archers who are at differing points in their careers.
Jyothi, who began shooting bows at the age of 11 and who is competing in her third Asian Games, is finally putting her demons to rest and is enjoying the best year of her career.
The Indian compound team coach Sergio Pagni was chuffed for Jyothi. “For Jyothi, this is a very cathartic moment because she has lost so many gold medals in the final during her career. She has deserved [the gold medal] so much,” said Pagni.
Being clutch, an eventual lesson
Until June last year, Jyothi has always come so close without ever being able to get past the finish line.
She had four silver and three bronze medals in the World Championships, and one silver and six bronze in the World Cups. She was also dropped from the Indian team after failing to make the trials and there was also ‘the queen of compound archery’, Sara Lopez, who has been a constant thorn in her side.
The Colombian beat Jyothi to three golds in the 2021 World Championships. But since then, she has won a World Cup gold, a World Championship gold and beaten Lopez twice this year.
Pagni said it was important for Jyothi to get over her mental block without getting fixated on her opponents.
“Jyothi focused a lot on herself and she was very good about it. I do not need to convince her that Sara Lopez can be beaten. You have to convince the athlete that there is no opponent in front of you. Just there is you and your target. It is impossible to manage your level to that of another athlete. What is possible is to manage your own level. You can manage yourself, not another athlete,” said the Italian.
That crossing over the bridge moment came for Jyothi when she beat Lopez in the first stage of the World Cup this year in Antalya, where she beat her rival to win gold.
After having gone through all the tough times, Jyothi is now happy to have ended her drought.
“The waiting period is always tough for everyone and it was the same for me. Now that the good time has come, I just want to live in this moment,” she said.
“I started to think more positively [this year]. I focussed more on the positive side and not on the negative side. If you think about negatives, it may begin to affect your performance and mental health also.”
Ojas’ gold – a reward of his dedication
While Jyothi has had to wait so long to taste gold, Ojas, at just 21, and in his second year with the senior Indian team, is already a world champion and a triple gold medallist in his maiden Asiad.
“It was like a friendly,” said Ojas of the final. “In my head, I thought, even if I lose to (Abhishek) bhaiyya, I should give a good fight.”
Ojas gave his compatriot more than a fight as he shot all 10s with his first 10 arrows to set the tone for the final, which left Abhishek with little room for errors. Ojas shot a nine with his 11th shot but followed it up with four more 10s to clinch gold.
For Ojas and his coach Pravin Sawant, it’s the result of all the training hours put into fine-tuning the former’s skills at the latter’s training ground in Satara. Sawant has created an academy, where he trains his wards, including Aditi Swami, who won an individual bronze on Saturday.
Ojas, who hails from Nagpur, turned to Pravin for advanced-level coaching.
“In Satara, we were totally cut off from the rest of the world. It’s a place surrounded by mountains and is peaceful. We stay at the ground, sleep there, train there. Our hostel is on the ground. We are connected to archery 24/7,” said the youngster, who tried his hand at roller skating and gymnastics before switching to archery.
According to Pravin, Ojas’ dedication to the sport became apparent to him, when he chose to spend Diwali at the academy instead of going home to his family. “He was the only one there. That’s when I realised how dedicated he is. That’s when we bonded properly,” said Pravin.
Ojas added, “Whenever we need anything if we need guidance during, say, night practice. he’s there with us. I have stayed there continuously all these years. I don’t go back home. My first home is the archery ground. The second home is where my parents live.”
And it is Pravin, who is now insisting that Ojas goes back home for a few days at the end of the Asian Games.
Ojas knows it’s not going to be straightforward since he is going to be the toast of his hometown. “All I want to do is shut the doors of my house and stay at home with my parents,” Ojas said with a smile.