Abhishek Verma is comfortably seated at his plush residence in Model Town, north Delhi. Placed behind him is an impressive assortment of medals and trophies, neatly arranged inside a gigantic glass cabinet. Verma, one of India’s most accomplished compound archers, added yet another medal to his collection last week when he partnered Jyothi Surekha Vennam to win bronze in the mixed event at the Archery World Cup in Shanghai.
One would have thought that winning a medal at the World Cup — the first big-ticket tournament for archers this year — would have pleased him. But deep down, Verma is fighting hard to quell his own frustration. His discipline — compound archery — is not recognised as an Olympic sport. Worse still, it does not even have a representation at the Commonwealth Games (It last featured at the 2010 edition in Delhi).
Despite winning numerous medals as a compound archer, Verma, almost as an afterthought, says he’s willing to put down the bow and arrows, and is open to the idea of pursuing rifle shooting. This, he says, will provide him an opportunity to represent India at the Olympics someday. “Every athlete aspires to represent India at the Olympics. As a compound archer, this hope will never be realised. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I would like to try my hand at rifle shooting. I have never tried it at any stage of my life. But I feel the mentality of an archer is similar to that of a shooter. It’s all about handling the pressure of shooting that perfect 10… let’s see,” he says wistfully.
Verma is 28 now, with 16 solid years as a compound archer behind him. Therefore, his apprehensions are not unwarranted. That’s because recurve is the only category in archery that’s recognised at the Olympics, while compound is seen as a fringe discipline, relegated to the Asian Games, Sout Asian Games and World Cups. India won gold in the compound men’s team event, and Verma clinched silver in the individual event at the 2014 Asian Games.
The difference between recurve and compound archery lies in the equipment. While recurve uses the basic bow and arrow and relies more on human precision, compound is more mechanised and uses a combination of cams and wheels instead of the human finger as the trigger.
Instead of trying his hand at shooting, wouldn’t it make more sense for Verma to shift to recurve? Lokesh Chand, Verma’s childhood coach and someone who has seen him grow into a world-class archer, believes it’s probably too late now for his ward to make that shift. “I don’t think it’s possible for him at this stage in his career. Recurve is more technical and less mechanical. It would mean he would have to alter his posture and unlearn everything he has learnt over the last 16 years,” Chand explains.
Rajat Chauhan, Verma’s teammate, is the only Indian compound archer in recent times who has attempted to switch to recurve. But his transition was far from seamless. “Rajat is one of the few archers who would give you instant results. He wanted to switch to recurve to get a shot at representing India at the Olympics. But he struggled. Because recurve mein time chahiye. After spending more than 10 years as a compound archer, he was bound to struggle. He gave it a shot, and after a while, returned to compound,” Verma explains.
India’s compound archers, led by Verma, are quietly gearing up for the big-ticket Asian Games in Jakarta, which is barely three months away. Verma puts it rather succinctly. “We have three more World Cups lined up, but all our energies are focused on the Asian Games. This is our Olympics.”
Despite a relatively settled team with him at the helm, Verma has other worries. “They have dropped individual compound events from this edition of the Asian Games and have introduced a mixed event. An individual event used to guarantee a medal. But it’s going to be difficult for us as teams like South Korea have some world-class archers,” he says.
The other issue bothering the compound archers is funding. At present, the Target Olympic Podium Scheme or TOPS is taking care of the expenses of the top six compound archers. But Verma says the funding will stop after Jakarta.
“After the Asian Games, the sponsorship stops. I think that’s a bit unfair. It’s not our fault that we are not in the Olympics. We still have to constantly perform in other events like the SAF Games and World Cups.”
These niggles notwithstanding, Verma is busy mapping the way ahead for his team. After spending a week with his family in Delhi, he will move to Sonepat for a 10-day national camp before the team flies to Antalya (Turkey) for the second World Cup. Verma knows that this tournament will serve as ideal preparation for the bigger battle in Jakarta later this year.