Against a familiar pre-Olympic noise and with a lot of history against them, the Indian shooters will have a sense of déjà vu when they start their campaign for the Tokyo Games with the ranking round here on Friday.
Despite the women’s team’s failure to qualify, the quartet Deepika Kumari, Atanu Das, Tarundeep Rai and Pravin Jadhav entered the mega-event with renewed hopes of winning the country’s first Olympic medal in the sport.
The biggest prospects are the duo of husband Das and Deepika, who would like to recreate the magic of the World Cup in Paris in the mixed doubles competition, which will debut at the Games on Saturday in Yumenoshima Park.
After the 1988 Games, India gave birth to many sports champions with people like Limba Ram and then Dola Banerjee, winning at all levels except the Olympics.
Gianta Taluqdar became number two in the world in 2006, while Dola raised the bar in 2007 to become world champion, but they all fell apart in Beijing in 2008.
Dipica’s meteoric rise followed, turning many heads at the young age of 15, winning the 2009 World Youth Championships and then collecting two gold medals at the British Community Games in New Delhi next year.
But in London 2012, she made it out of the first round as the Indian side failed to make a full impact and the trip was no better in Rio de Janeiro four years later.
Competing in her third consecutive Olympics, the two-time world number 1 Deepika has seen everything – from the low levels of London to the lowest level in Rio 2016.
Five years later, the Ranchi shooter is in the shape of his life, having recently won five gold medals at the World Cup. Wiser and perhaps bolder, Deepika’s biggest challenge would be to overcome the Koreans, who are both mentally and physically strong.
“This is very important because Indian archery does not have an Olympic medal, so I want to win,” Dipika said before the games.
“I want to prove to myself that I can win. That’s why it’s very important to me, my whole archery team and my country.”
In the absence of defensive champion Chang He Jin, who failed to make the cut, Deepika’s biggest threat is Kang Chae Young, who would be number one in the world if the 2020 Olympics were held.
The promising 20-year-old An San, who beat Deepika in straight sets along the way to win gold at the Tokyo 2020 Test Event in July 2019, would also be a big challenge.
After qualifying for the first time since 2012, the Indian men’s team also offers some promise and would be a great achievement if they make the last four.
Composed of veteran army shooter Tarundip Rai, Das and the promising Pravin Yadhav, the men’s team won a silver medal at the 2019 World Cup to reserve a place at the Olympics.
Rai has been competing in his third Olympics since making his debut in Athens in 2004, while Das will make his second appearance after Rio.
The world rankings do not give the right picture, as neither Korea nor China Taipei, China and Japan have really competed internationally since the second half of 2019.
All four nations will be in full force in the Japanese capital, and it remains to be seen whether the Indians are able to overcome the Asian threat and the familiar pressure to be at the Olympics.