World No 1 archer Deepika leads Indian challenge at Games
With World No Deepika Kumari spearheading the campaign, India's in-form archers will aim for a perfect 10 when they pick up their bows and arrows to seek Olympic glory at the 'spiritual home of cricket' -- the hallowed turf of Lord's Stadium in London.
This is only the second time since the 2004 Athens Games, when Indian archers have been able to earn the maximum of six quota places for the Olympics. Powered by Deepika's sublime form, the team will look for podium finishes in at least two of the four events in London.
The 18-year-old Deepika shot to fame when she won her first international medal, becoming the cadet world champion in Ogden 2009. The Ranchi girl has not looked back ever since.
Daughter of an autorickshaw driver, the teenager emerged the biggest archery sensation when she won the Commonwealth gold medal in Delhi 2010.
Deepika continued to dominate her age group as she won the junior world title in 2011, while recently she showed her top form when she won the World Cup Stage II gold in Antalya beating South Korea's Lee Sung Jin.
A media-shy Deepika's rise to the No 1 in world rankings -- only second from India after Dola Banerjee -- also could not have come at a better time as she now chases India's Olympic glory at individual and team events."She is definitely our best bet in the women's section for a medal in the individual event," national coach Limba Ram said, asserting that they were aiming for two medals.
Image: Deepika Kumari
'Deepika is fearless, confident and stays cool under pressure'
"Her progress graph is impressive. In past two years, she has beaten some of the big names including the world champion Koreans," he added.
Women's team coach Purnima Mahato, who has been with the archer since it all began, said: "Deepika is fearless, confident and stays cool under pressure. We have high hopes from here."
The women's recurve team comprising Deepika, Bombayla Devi and Chekrovolu Swuro secured the Olympic quota berths at the World Championships in Turin last year.
The women trio booked the three Olympic quota places, upsetting defending champions Korea to make their maiden entry into the World Championship final but only to lose to the Italians for the gold medal clash.
In the same championship, Jayanta Talukdar booked his Olympic berth in the individual recurve event amid a flop shows by teammates Tarundeep Rai and Rahul Banerjee.
The men's team finally clinched the Games berth when the trio shot well under pressure and beat Australia in the semi-finals in the final Olympic qualifications held alongside the World Cup Stage III in Ogden last month.
The qualification meant that Asian Games silver medalist Rai would compete in his second Olympics, lending experience to his teammates.
Image: Deepika Kumari
'If I shoot like I did in the Asian Games, I will definitely win a medal'
As a 20-year-old Rai participated in his first Olympics in Athens 2004 when he finished 32nd in individual and 11th in the team.
Afterwards, he suffered a career-threatening shoulder injury that put him out of action for about two years and he had to struggle for a place in the team.
He made a fine comeback at the Asian Games Guangzhou in 2010 when he clinched a historic individual silver and team bronze.
Rai hopes to get back his form in the Asian Games, something that will surely win a medal at the Olympics.
"I am not in my best of form as an individual yet. But the good news is that we are peaking at the right time. There is a lot of difference shooting in the Asian Games and in the Olympics. But if I shoot like I did in the Asian Games, I will definitely win a medal," Rai said.
But on form, Talukdar is ahead among the men and they would hope he becomes the chief architect in the team event just as India did by winning the silver in the World Cup Stage II and Stage III this year.
The third member, Rahul Banerjee, could look for tips from elder sister Dola, a veteran of two Olympics, before boarding the London-bound flight.
At the final qualification in Ogden, Banerjee defied all odds to win an Olympic berth -- shooting from borrowed equipment -- after he lost his bow box in transit.With the team finals scheduled on July 28 (men) and 29 (women) ahead of the individuals on August 2 (women) and 3 (men), the archers would look to open the tally for India and give the country a reason to celebrate.
Image: Tatundeep Rai