There’s something about Deepika Kumari in an Olympic year. In 2012, in the run up to the London Games she raised her game to such a level that it propelled her to the world no.1 position in the rankings. But nerves did her in when it mattered the most.
On Wednesday – exactly 100 days before the Rio Olympics – she raised hopes once again by shooting a world record-equalling total in the women’s recurve event of the Archery World Cup in Shanghai. The two-time Commonwealth Games gold medal winner shot 686 in the 72-arrow ranking round to equal the feat of London Olympics gold-medallist Ki Bo Bae of Korea.
Bae, who had won two gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics in the individual and team competition, had erased an 11-year-old world record when she got past fellow Korean Park Sung-Hyun’s 682 at qualification of the Universiade in Gwangju in 2015.
With Korea sending a team of juniors and cadets, it was a relatively less competitive field but Deepika still had to have a great day to match the world record score (Koreans still finished second, though). And she did. The 21-year-old was impressive throughout the qualifying round and at the halfway stage, she was three points ahead of the average for world record. With 343 for the front half, she set the range ablaze and stayed ahead of the average for two more ends before dropping two eights and falling a fraction behind. However, she rallied back and shot without committing any errors in the final three ends.
With world record in her sight, Deepika needed 59 from her last six arrows but two nines from her first three shots left the target out of reach. With the pressure of setting the record off, she finished with 10s to match Bae’s mark. “The fact that it was a record wasn’t really on my mind. I just shot,” Deepika was quoted as saying by World Archery. “I don’t have any expectations for this week. I just want to give my best. But I’m confident about the rest of the year.” The top seed Deepika will now play round three of last 32 directly, while her teammate Laxmirani Majhi who ranked a poor 45 and Rimil Buriuly (75) will start from round one. The women’s team is ranked fourth.
Deepika’s effort also enabled India to get a top ranking in mixed pair as she partnered 12th ranked Atanu Das (671 points) to defeat Turkey 5-3 in the first round of eight. In the semifinals, the pair lost to fourth ranked Chinese Taipei 3-5 and will face third-seeded Koreans in the bronze medal playoff. Korea were blanked 0-6 by second-ranked USA in the other semifinal. In the men’s recurve qualification, Atanu Das, Jayanta Talukdar and Mangal Singh Champia finished among top-20 to hand the team a third place.
For Deepika, this performance isn’t really a surprise. According to the coaches, she has been shooting consistently well in the camps, even outdoing the men archers. Her performance in training translated into big results, silver medal in the world championship being a case in point. At the World Cups, too, she has been consistent, winning her fourth silver last year after finishing runner-up thrice from 2011 to 2013.