Indian men’s recurve team surpassed all expectations to finish runners-up in the team event at the World Archery Championships at ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands last week. Young Pravin Jadhav participating in just his sixth international competition – the biggest of his career so far – played a big part in the run that earned him his second international medal. Two medals in six events may not be the best possible return, but things could have been far worse for the 22-year-old.
Jadhav was meant to be an ordinary man. Being the son of daily wage earning parents, living in often drought-affected Sarade village in Satara district of Maharashtra, he was meant to live a life full of hardships. The school in his village had classes only up till seventh grade. Like most people in Sarade, Jadhav was destined to be a labourer.
Fate had left little hope for him in life, but for a young Jadhav, that little was all he had.
Jadhav was a sports enthusiast from his early days in school. The potential in his passion for sports had gone unnoticed until Vikas Bhujbal, a primary school teacher joined and initiated few sporting activities in the school.
Jadhav’s prowess was quickly noticed by Bhujbal who decided to train his pupil in athletics. “His financial condition was very bad. I felt if he could do well in sports he could get free higher education and probably a job in the future. That was his only hope to escape poverty,” Bhujbal told Scroll.in.
Although a good performer at the local level, Jadhav struggled to make an impact at the district level. He was too young for the competition, but most importantly he was too weak. “He weighed just 22 kgs at 10 years of age. Also, he was competing with 12-13 years olds, so there was little success,” Bhujbal recalled.
The school teacher was eyeing a place for Jadhav in Maharashtra government’s Krida Prabodhini scheme in order to secure his education, give him an improved diet and professional training in athletics. But selection to the scheme required success at higher levels which Jadhav was struggling with.
Taking up archery
Bhujbal took it upon himself to provide Jadhav with the necessary diet to get him in a physical condition to compete. “Bhujbal sir took care of my diet, and incurred all the expenses for my training,” Jadhav said.
“I remember him asking all the school children to bring one nutritious food item to school for me and the other athletes trying to make it to the Krida Prabodhini school. He used to feed me eight eggs every day along with chicken preparations. All the expenses were borne by him,” he revealed. With a better diet, Jadhav tasted success at taluka and district level.
Eventually, at the age of 13, he was finally part of the scheme and received training at Balewadi in Pune. With improved facilities, Jadhav went to a new level as an athlete.
“Pravin used to run 800m. His timing was around 3 mins 40 secs which is very close to a top-level athlete. He was way better than most at Balewadi,” Praful Dange, an archery coach employed at Krida Prabodhini school in Amravati where Jadhav was shifted after a year in Pune, told Scroll.in.
Despite his potential as a runner, the results of the battery of tests conducted at the sports school showed that Jadhav was suited for archery. “The length of his arms, a good level of concentration meant he had all the qualities to be an archer. He was sent to Amravati to train in the sport under me,” Dange revealed.
Archery is a difficult sport and many aspirants lose patience within a year. Jadhav had to survive the period. “We make archers train with a bamboo bow for a year. The professional bow is only given after that if they show enough interest,” Dange divulged.
Jadhav weathered the storm. He had no choice. “I was very intrigued by archery. When I was in Pune I always used to watch archery sessions. So when I had the chance to learn the sport, I took it.
“I hadn’t worked so hard to fail, go back to my village and become a daily wage earner. I had earned my chance and I had to make the most of it,” Jadhav said.
However, real difficulties for the Sarade native were in store for him after the first year. Jadhav who was still physically weaker in comparison to his peers, struggled with the weight of a recurve bow. He experienced pain in his shoulders while firing the arrow and subsequently, his performances dipped.
His relative weaker physique prompted the Krida Prabodhini authorities to give up on him and he was set to be released from the academy. With his sporting dream on the line, Bhujbal who had been at the heart of Jadhav’s development as an athlete, came forward to help again.
Bhujbal contacted Mahesh Palkar, an education officer for primary schools at Satara Zilla Parishad and asked for his help. Palkar, a sports enthusiast himself decided to aid Jadhav’s cause. He along with Bhujbal made the overnight journey to Amravati, covering the 800 km distance in a car.
On Palkar’s insistence, the Krida Prabodhini authorities gave Jadhav five shots to prove his worth. Under immense pressure and with his position in the academy on the line, he returned with a 45+ score. The performance didn’t just earn him a second chance at Krida Prabodhini school but also the reputation of an under-pressure performer.
“Pravin doesn’t get bogged down by one or two bad shots. He is very determined and in the toughest of situations, he will win you matches,” Dange, Jadhav’s coach in Amravati said highlighting his greatest strength.
The trial was a turning point for Jadhav. The confidence boost he got from the event meant he went from strength to strength. In 2016, at the age of 19, Jadhav represented India for the first time at the Asia Cup Stage 1. He tasted success straightaway by winning the bronze medal with the men’s recurve team.
However, that wasn’t the end of his problems. As Jadhav’s time at the Krida Prabodhini academy was coming to an end, he had to find ways of accumulating finances to buy his own archery equipment in order to continue his journey in the sport. The entire kit cost Rs 2.5 lakh and Jadhav never had the kind of finances to fund for it.
He had saved knowing that this day would come, but it wasn’t enough. “When I was in the academy, I used to get Rs 9000 per month. I had to send more than half the money back home to support my parents, so my savings weren’t a lot. But since I represented India at the World Cup later that year, I got Rs 2.5 lakh from the government, which every participating archer gets. I used that sum to buy the equipment,” Jadhav revealed.
Change in fortune
Today, the 22-year-old boy from Sarade is a World Championship silver medalist. The least inexperienced member of the Indian team that had two Olympians performed extremely well in the Netherlands and matched his teammates, far more experienced than him. He didn’t let the occasion get to him and helped India claim an improbable silver.
On his way to the final in the World Championships, Jadhav and Co also bagged a Tokyo Olympic quota for India. He will still have to undergo a selection trial to be a part of the final men’s recurve team for the Olympics, but few would put it past the Sarade boy to maintain his place in the team at Tokyo.
Jadhav’s financial difficulties have eased to an extent. He joined the army in 2017 and is also now supported by the Olympic Gold Quest. His journey from an undernourished child to an archery champion is complete and there’s still more in store.
For all his progress, Jadhav’s parents continue to live in a small 10 square feet room in Sarade. For long they had been reluctant observers to Jadhav’s archery renaissance. Only a job in the army has eased their concerns. “They had heard about a few kids from the academy being left out and having no job. They were worried the same thing would happen to me. But now that I have a job, they are at peace,” Jadhav said.
Sarade though remains insulated to its son’s exploits. There’s no buzz in the village about producing a world-class sportsman. They just simply don’t understand the gravity of what one of them has gone onto achieve. “There was a bit of a stir in my village when I won the Chhatrapati award earlier this year, but there is nothing now. They don’t know what a world championship is. For them it is just one other prize like the ones I have been winning since my childhood,” Jadhav explained.
With a possible Olympic appearance on the cards and a long career ahead of him, one hopes this should change soon.
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