From being rejected as a frail 12-year-old to being challenged to prove himself in three months to India’s biggest prospect for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, world number one Dipika Kumari is a story of grit, guts and deception.
A journey that started from Arjun MundaThe academy in Harsavan, a small town surrounded by the idyllic Chandil-Gamharia forest chain, rose to prominence at the Tata Archery Academy, which later became its “second home”.
It all started in the summer of 2006, when Deepika visited her best friend-cousin Deepti Kumari in Lohardaga, about 70 km from her hometown of Ratu in Ranchi, during her holidays.
Deepika has planned to start archery and follow in her cousin’s footsteps to reduce the financial burden on her father, an auto show driver and mother who previously worked as a nurse.
Upon her return to Ranchi, she and her parents, Shivnarayan and Gita Mahato, visited Mira Munda, the wife of then-Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda, to ask her to enroll Dipika in their academy in Harsavan.
“Tumse to bhari dhanush hai, yeh sab nahin hoga tumse! (You can’t do that, even the bow looks heavier than you!),” Mira Munda told Deepika.
However, her parents somehow managed to convince Miera, who then asked the coaches of the academy to take a trial for Deepika.
Riding a pion on a motorcycle with his father, Deepika reached the academy, but was also rejected by academy coaches Srinivas Rao and Himanshu Mohanti, recalled Sumanta Chandra Mohanti, secretary of the Saraykela-Harsavan-Harsavan Archery Association.
Dissatisfied, Deepika, however, went to meet Munda’s wife again. “This time, she accepted a three-month challenge to prove herself at the academy, and Mira G wrote an official letter to enroll her,” Mohanti said in an interview with PTI in Harsavan.
“Usme jaan hi nahin thi (she looked very thin). The only thing that was brightest was her structure to look in archery shape – long, straight limbs, a perfect anchor,” Rao said.
Himanshu added: “You need strength and endurance to shoot a bow. She looked completely inappropriate, but she had determination in her eyes and she is working very, very hard to prove that we are all wrong.”
Strictly disciplining from a very young age, Deepika will be the first to come down to the ground and start training.
“She would always do it twice what she was told during training. With her fragile structure, her body easily gave up, but she kept working, doing other workouts, doubled from the others,” her academy partner, his Sumit Mishra, a former shooter from India.
She was not perfect skillfully, but she did her best to correct her mistakes. “Her anchor – the position of the hand under the face with the bow fully drawn – was not happening properly. But the next day she started firing perfectly.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then Deepika told me he didn’t sleep at night and continued to train with a trumpet in front of a mirror,” Himanshu recalled.
As I watch her zeal, staff will pay special attention to her diet.
Deepika and other girls from the academy would stay at Mohanti’s house while the boys lived at Munda’s house nearby.
“She never liked rice so that we could make chapati especially for her. In the afternoon she climbed the guava tree and spent the evenings watching TV with my father in the hall. She became part of our family in no time,” Rao said.
“She started beating boys her age within a month and didn’t look back at her.”
Deepika made its youth debut in Jabalpur in 2007, but only to return empty-handed. Only in Vijaywada, where he tasted his first success with a gold medal. “She hasn’t stopped since,” Rao said.
A child of the current president of the Munda Archery Association of India, the academy originated with its first batch of about 60 children at the base of the ancient Maa Dama Dari temple in Helarisahi.
So far, it has produced about 30 international archers, including Mishra, Manjuda Soya and Gora Ho, among others.
“Deepika always asked us to offer coconut in the ancient temple during her tournaments. And this time there will be special offers for puja for her success in the Olympics,” Mohanti said.
“Sapna zaroor dekhiye, humne sapna haqiqat mein badalte hue dekha hai – dreams become reality.”
Deepika’s next trip was an intermediate landing at the TAA in Jamshedpur, where she honed her skills under coaches Darmendra Tiwari and Purnima Mahato.
Deepika spent about 11 years at the TAA and it was like her second home, said Kuntala hostel supervisor Paul, pointing to the first floor where she stayed during her training days.
“Whether it helps with cooking, my hairstyle or surprises everyone with her amazing rangoli creations during Diwali, she has always won our hearts,” Kuntala said.
“But it’s the cooking that’s always on her heart.”
Since its inception in 1996, the TAA has produced seven Olympians, 213 international medalists and 875 national medalists, but an Olympic medal is missing from their cabinet.
“And last time we were very hopeful, because only a month before that she had set a world record,” Tata Steel’s head of the Mukul Chodhari Sports Achievement Center said.
“We don’t have an Olympic medalist. One medal is missing, so that would be the biggest feeling for all of us in Tata.”