There was a certain tension within the Swami household in Satara, Maharashtra. It was quite unlike anything they had ever experienced before.
On Saturday, three members in the family were perched in front of the television screen, watching the fourth compete at the 2023 World Archery Championships in Berlin.
“We were a bit apprehensive,” Gopichand Swami told Scroll, about watching the action unfold.
But his daughter – Aditi Swami, competing some 6,500 kms away from home in Germany, did not have any such inhibitions.
All of 17, Aditi scripted history in the German capital as she became the youngest-ever individual archery world champion, winning the women’s individual compound event. The win also made her the first Indian to win an individual gold medal at the World Championships – Ojas Deotale would win the men’s crown a few hours later.
“When we spoke to her before the finals day, she was very confident,” Gopichand said.
That conversation took place on Friday, when Aditi teamed up with Jyothi Vennam and Parneet Kaur to win the gold medal in the women’s team compound event – India’s first ever gold medal in the history of the Archery World Championships.
In fact, before winning the team gold, the teenager had told her family that she will “100% win the gold medal.”
She fulfilled both predictions.
In hindsight, Gopichand agreed that he did not have any reason to stress about his daughter’s performance. But he asked: “It is natural to be tensed during such times when your daughter is going up against some of the best in the world, isn’t it?”
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In Berlin, with a commentator dubbing her “Stone Cold Swami” for her nerveless performance, Aditi beat Mexico’s Andrea Becerra 149-147 in the women’s compound final.
“It is really great that at 17 I could become the world champion,” Aditi told World Archery after her win. “I am very proud, I wanted to hear the 52 seconds of the national anthem to be played at the World Championships.”
Gopichand reveals that his daughter had a somewhat similar reaction on a call to the family post the medal ceremony.
“She is extremely happy about the win, but she does not realise how big a deal this is,” he said.
“Even I do not have any words to explain how happy we all are currently.”
What is even more remarkable about her achievement is that it comes just over a month after she won the Under-18 World Championship gold medal, in Limerick, Ireland.
Determination and eagerness
Gopichand was the one who had first pushed Aditi towards sports when she was barely a 10-year-old.
“I am a teacher by profession and I know the importance of the holistic development of a child,” he said. “I wanted her to play some sport or the other.”
Gopichand took his daughter to a sports academy in their hometown, where archery caught her fancy.
But she had to prove herself right from the start.
Pravin Sawant, a well-known coach in the region, was reluctant to take her as a student in his academy. But after Gopichand’s persuation, he agreed provided she passed the trials.
“Aditi was a very timid, weak kid when they first approached me and her physical strength was next to zero,” Sawant recalled his first impression of Aditi.
“But her determination and eagerness during the 15-day [trials] impressed me and I agreed to teach her.”
Thus began Aditi’s journey in archery.
Much like almost all the budding archers in the country, Aditi started the sport with an Indian bow. It was only two years later, in 2018 that she made the switch to the compound discipline.
Archery became her new reality, but the Swami family ensured that her education never took a backseat for the young Aditi – who is currently in Class 12.
Aditi’s success in archery has also drawn in her younger brother to the sport. He has been training in the art for the past few months.
“He also wants to be an archer looking at her do well,” Gopichand added.
Transition to seniors
Over the years, Aditi has transitioned very smoothly from the junior to senior levels. It was only this season that she made her World Cup debut.
“From the time I first saw her to now – Aditi has made massive strides,” asserted coach Sawant.
“Getting into the national camp has helped her improve her physical strength massively. She is also extremely strong mentally. The confidence she has right now is not something I would have associated with the nine-year-old Aditi I had first met. The win in Ireland last month just added to [the confidence].”
While a lot has already changed in her life and a lot more possibly will due to her heroics in Berlin, Aditi continues to train with Sawant in Satara, at the same place where her archery journey started.
In fact, that’s the first place her family rushed off to on Saturday to celebrate their daughter’s win.
But the academy is not a permanent one. Sawant though, hopes Aditi’s win may turn the tide.
“Almost every household in Satara talks about archery, but we still do not have good infrastructure,” Sawant said.
“Even the ground which we are training in currently is on a 15-year lease from an archery-loving family. This is actually a sugarcane field where we are training.”
After conquering the Worlds, Aditi now has her eye set on the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
“This is just the start,” she added. “We have the Asian Games coming up, I want to win gold for the country and continue to win team gold for the country.”
Before that, she is expected to fly directly to Paris, France from Berlin for the upcoming Archery World Cup Stage 4 before she returns to India later this month.
This is a crucial period for the young archer, who will be competing in several important events, back-to-back. So much so, that the Swamis are not sure if they will get a chance to celebrate Aditi’s win in Berlin once she eventually gets home.
But Gopichand remained optimistic about that.
“We’ll see,” he added.