At the recent Asian Archery Championships in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a total of 10 gold medals were at stake across recurve and compound events. The Korean contingent was present for the event. So, naturally, you’d expect them to dominate even if the Olympians were not participating. And indeed, they did. A total of nine gold medals out of the 10 on offer went to Korea.

The only non-Korean gold medallist was India’s Jyothi Surekha Vennam in the individual women’s compound final.

Of course, Korean archers don’t quite dominate compound events as they do recurve. (In Dhaka, all individual recurve semifinals were all-Korean affairs.) So, let’s cast our mind back a few weeks to the Archery World Championships in Yankton. Only two compound archers finished on the podium in all three possible events (individual, team, mixed team). One was Colombia’s Sara Lopez, considered widely as the greatest ever in the sport. She finished with gold medals in all three events.

The other was India’s Jyothi Surekha Vennam, finishing second only to the legendary Lopez in the three events to clinch three silver medals.

Quite simply, Vennam was on fire in the two main events to close out the 2021 archery season.

Jyothi Surekha Vennam’s medals in 2021:

Asian Championships, Dhaka: Individual gold, mixed team silver

World Championships, Yankton:  Individual silver, mixed team silver, women’s team silver

Indeed, the 25-year-old thinks this is the best year she has had on the international circuit. And mind you, she has been around for a while now. Having made her international debut in 2011, she has finished a decade in the sport as one of the foremost archers in her field.

“I think it has been a great year, based on the performances as well winning medals,” Vennam told during a telephonic interview. “By whatever metric, it has been great overall. Yes, I think it is the best year on tour. You know, winning three silver medals at the World Championships is really a huge thing. So, yes would call it my best.”

The medals alone are enough proof for how well Vennam has been performing but the underlying numbers back it up too. Her average arrow in 2021 was 9.66, the best of her career and a solid improvement over her overall average 9.49. In simpler terms, extending her career average over 15 arrows (as per the count over five ends in an elimination match), her score would be 142.35, but her 2021 average puts an extended total at 144.90.

Jyothi Surekha Vennam over the years

2011 8.86 638
2012 9.25 676
2013 9.40 684
2014 9.51 690
2015 9.50 691
2016 9.40 681
2017 9.52 698
2018 9.55 706
2019 9.52 698
2021 9.66 695
Career 9.49 706
Courtesy: World Archery

And the high average was certainly helped by incredible performance in Yankton at the World Championships recently. She became the first compound woman to score a perfect 150 in a televised arena, according to World Archery. It came in the quarterfinals of the individual event and Lopez promptly went to repeat the feat shortly after. But Vennam produced a moment to remember at the biggest stage for her sport.

“I didn’t know then actually that it had not been done before but later when I saw all the posts and videos that World Archery posted, that was when I found out. I was just focussing on shooting well and trying my best with every arrow... whatever the result was, I just wanted to win the match and move to the next round,” Vennam said.

It is not even something that is very frequent in training, but such has been the year that she has had.

“Not something that happens regularly, but this year has been great. I have shot 150 thrice. Once in the trials for the World Championships, once at the World Championships, and later in the nationals. It has been amazing,” the triple silver-medallist at World Championships added.

Back in Dhaka for the Asian Championships, Vennam had to go through not one but Korean archers if she had to win gold. The top seed Kim Yunhee was defeated in the semifinal and in the final against Oh Yoohyun, it was the most dramatic of finishes . It took a long time for the referees to check the Korean’s final arrow... if it was a 9, Vennam had won and if it was deemed to be a 10, there would be a shootoff. The decision went Vennam’s way and she became the individual Asian champion for the second time in her career, stopping a clean sweep by Koreans.

“Ah well... I didn’t actually think about being the only non-Korean or anything. The focus was just all on how I shoot, how well I can perform. The result is not our hands right? What I can do is just perform my best. Yes, it is all thrilling once it is over... the competition in Asia is tough. Facing Korea is always tough, it was quite exciting,” she said.

And one could say in that simplicity of approach lies the secret to her success this year. A sport like archery is one of fine margins... a few millimeters here or there could be the difference between winning and losing. The mental pressure can get immense.

“Pressure is something that depends on the individual... if you let that in, it makes a huge burden on yourself. I don’t know if I have always been this way... sometimes it does get into you and then you can’t get a hold on it 100%. You can’t let such situations sink you,” Vennam said.

And looking forward too, she is not fussed about setting big targets.

“The last international event in 2021 was the Asian Championships and the next season (international) starts in April with the World Cups, Asian Games, World Games all lined up till September. It’s going to be interesting, exciting. I didn’t set any targets for what’s next and all, I just want to take everything step by step, make every tournament count. It’s not just about putting myself under pressure with targets, I like to take one step after the other,” said Vennam, who made the switch from swimming to compound archery as a kid thanks to her parents’ decision.

And every time Vennam succeeds on the international circuit, one can’t help but wonder how Indian archery’s medal tally at the Olympic Games would look if compound events were a part of it. Of course, historically, recurve archery has been the only form of the sport that is part of the Summer Olympics. Compound archery is a newer version of the sport and while it is a fixture on the World Cup circuit and World Championships for a while now, the wait goes on for it to be part of the global extravaganza that every athlete dreams to be a part of.

“It is something that is not in our hands,” Vennam said. “You can’t do anything about it, I focus on what I can do. They have been trying to include at the Olympics, but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened. We are all waiting for the day when the compound event makes it. I would want to see it happening, yes. We just have to wait and watch.”