Deepika Kumari is India’s most decorated archer and she proved her class once again when she bagged gold medals in individual recurve as well as the team event at the Archery World Cup Stage 1 in Guatemala as competition began in the sport after a long hiatus.
It was her third individual World Cup gold medal, nine years after her first.
Deepika’s talent is undoubted, she has achieved what no other Indian archer has ever had but at times she has been a victim of her own success. At the Olympics, the biggest sporting festival in the world, Deepika’s performances have missed the mark. Those results have sometimes overshadowed an excellent career, even one that seemed on the way down after she could not meet expectations at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But come 2021, as another Olympics approaches, Deepika Kumari has got India hoping again. An assured performance at the World Cup in Guatemala reiterated that she is India’s best medal prospect at Tokyo Games in archery.
Scroll.in spoke to Deepika Kumri, who is managed by Baseline Ventures on her latest triumph, how the mental side in archery is key to success and how she is gearing up for a better showing at the Tokyo Games.
Here are the excerpts:
Both your finals in the team and the individual event were close contests and you came through to win both. What was going through your mind and how did you cope with the pressure?
I didn’t feel so much pressure during the team event as the team was performing well throughout. In the individual final, I was a bit nervous as I was competing after a long gap. There is always the pressure of winning but I didn’t let that overwhelm me. I have been working on the mental side of the game and that was useful.
This was your third gold medal in World Cups. How different was it from the previous two?
This was quite different from previous gold medals. The big difference was that in the previous years. all I thought about was about winning. This time my focus was on performance and my body.
I was able to analyse my performances much better and learn from the mistakes quickly. So this medal was different.
You were participating in a major competition after a long gap. What challenges did it bring?
Playing a World Cup is very different from playing competitions in India or giving trials. But I knew that these tournaments were very important for me to judge where I stand and on which aspects I needed to work on. I obviously wanted to perform well but I wasn’t going to be too bothered if I made mistakes as it was just part of the preparation. I went with a clear frame of mind.
How have your Olympics preparations been going so far?
An Olympic medal is the one that I don’t have so all my efforts right now are concentrated on winning an Olympic medal. Skill-wise I am quite strong but mentally there is still a bit of weakness. So I’m working hard on it and I can say that the results are showing.
What have you been doing to increase your mental strength?
The key to success in archery is how calm you can be. It’s not a sport where you need to show a lot of aggression. That can increase your heart rate and it’s not good especially during competitions where you need a lot of focus.
But just being calm is not enough. You need to keep negative thoughts away. During competitions, it is very easy for negativity to set in. So our training focuses a lot on how we turn these negative thoughts into positive ones, how to manage doubts that come to your mind.
There are times when you are struggling during competition and you feel that you are losing. That’s when you need to have the strength to bounce back. For that, it’s important to know how your body reacts to disappointment so that you can manage it and keep going. We’ve been doing yoga and a few more mental exercises during lockdown when he had few opportunities for practice.
The Tokyo Games will be your third Olympics. Do you feel you are in a better position to cope with the weight of expectations?
I hope I am able to handle pressure better this time. For me, I always do well just before the Olympics, so the expectations from me are always high. But for me, as much as external pressure, it’s important to manage my own expectations as well.
No one wants to win an Olympic medal more than the athlete, so you end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself as you have worked so hard for it. This time my aim will be to manage my emotions better so that I can make my technical quality count.
How did you train during the off-season when there was a lockdown?
We did work on physical aspects a bit during the off-season and we used to shoot 10m. But since we are used to shooting outdoors in a range of 70m, shooting in 10m became quite boring so we couldn’t carry it forward. But I got to spend a lot of quality time with family and relax a bit which was good.
The women’s team won a gold medal after a long time. How is the team shaping ahead of the Olympic qualifiers?
A lot of tough competition awaits the team. It’s true that we have improved a lot than in recent years but we have a lot more to improve. We need to score 10s where we are scoring 9s or 8s. In Olympics, there’s a lot of pressure and scoring well under that kind of pressure is quite hard. We are trying to work on that.
It was your first major tournament after your marriage with Atanu Das. Do you discuss each others’ performances and what are the conversations like?
Our conversations are normal but there are some things you can’t discuss with fellow athletes freely especially when you are talking about things that they are not doing right. Players are hesitant to talk about it sometimes as they are not aware of how a certain player will react to it.
With Atanu, I understand him better and I know what to talk to him at what time if there’s a problem. So I can tell him that right away so that he works on it quickly. He does the same for me.
During the World Cup, India was suffering badly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How did it affect the mood in the camp? Were you concerned about your loved ones at home?
We were aware of the situation in India and felt really bad about it. We felt a bit helpless as we were so far away and there wasn’t much we could do about it. As for our family members, they are all vaccinated and we know they take good care of themselves, so we were at peace.
What is the road ahead for you till the Olympics?
There’s a second World Cup but we are not sure if we’ll be able to participate because of visa issues and also the pandemic and there’s not a lot of time with the quarantine and all. So we will be going to Pune now and then we’ll see.
It will be great if we can take part in the second World Cup in Switzerland World Cup as we need to play more top-level competitions. But we’ll surely go for the third World Cup in Paris in June (Olympic qualification spots at stake).