Updated: September 4, 2021 1:20:20 pm
Harvinder Singh remembers his focus being drawn away from the 12.2 centimetre 10-point archery target placed 70 metres away. He was at a pre-Paralympic training camp at the SAI campus in Sonipat when Tarundeep Rai and Atanu Das walked in, fresh from their Olympic sojourn. It was a distraction for the 29-year-old, but a welcomed one.
He got to chatting with the duo, asking them about the conditions he should expect when he competed at the Yumenoshima Park in Tokyo. Those few insights were all he needed to, on Friday, win India’s 13th medal at the ongoing Paralympics.
Harvinder scored a perfect 10 in the shoot-off to beat South Korea’s Kim Min Su 6-5 to earn bronze in the third-placed playoff.
9 needed to win the shoot-off. He gets a perfect 10! 🎯
— The Bridge (@the_bridge_in) September 3, 2021
“They told me that I have to adjust to the wind and rain. The focus should be on shooting the arrow,” he tells The Indian Express from Tokyo about that meeting.
“They told me not go after shooting a 10 while there is wind or rain. In rain, the arrow gets a bit heavier and that’s what made things difficult here. There was of course the pressure of the competition but I am glad that I could win India’s first medal in archery in the Olympics or Paralympics.”
Rai was a part of the London 2012 Olympics, during which Harvinder took a fancy to archery. But getting involved in the sport would be tough given his condition.
“In recurve archery, more than 60 percent of the body weight falls on the left leg,” explains his coach Jiwanjot Singh Teja.
“Since he suffers from the impairment in his left leg, we had to work on his posture and balance first so that his right leg can take the weight. Once the right posture and balance was achieved, it was his hard work which helped him.”
Growing up in the family farm in Ajitgarh, in the Kaithal district of Haryana, an 18-month-old Harvinder suffered an impairment in his left leg after being given the wrong injection by a local doctor. He focused mainly on his academic pursuits when he watched the London Games and decided to start training in compound archery at the Punjab University under Teja’s tutelage. He shifted to recurve a few years later and medalled at the 2016 and 2017 nationals. His biggest title – before Friday – came at the 2018 Para Asian Games in Indonesia when he beat Chinese archer Zhao Lixue 6-0. Coincidentally, he beat Kim, his bronze-medal playoff opponent on Friday, in the semi-final in Jakarta – again through a shoot-off.
— Doordarshan Sports (@ddsportschannel) September 3, 2021
Archery in the backyard
All was going well for Harvinder in the build-up to the Paralympics after his Asiad success. He won the Tokyo quota with a joint-ninth place finish along with compatriot Vivek Chikara at the 2019 World Para Archery Championship in the Netherlands. The duo then combined with Rajesh Kumar to win the team bronze at the Asian Championships in Thailand that same year. After a stint in the United States, Harvinder was all set to embark on a training stint in South Korea – an archery hub – when the pandemic struck.
It didn’t help that he came down with dengue before he joined the national camp last year. But it was at home where he decided to continue his training while the world was forced indoors due to the virus.
“Once the lockdown was announced, I asked my father about training at our farm. Since the wheat season was over, he ploughed a major portion of land at different areas so I could train. When I was diagnosed with dengue, I also had to make sure that I took all the precautions against the Coronavirus,” he shares.
Route to bronze
Armed with the tips Rai and Das provided, and with the hours of training he managed in the 18 acre fields during lockdown, Harvinder was set for Tokyo. But the journey to bronze was no breeze.
He started off with a tense shoot-off win against Italian archer Stefano Travisani. Then came another shoot-off win over Russian Olympic Committee’s Bato Tsydendorzhiev in the Round of 16. The quarterfinal was a bit more straightforward – a 6-2 triumph over Maik Szarszewski of Germany. Then came the near-miss 6-4 loss to American archer Kevin Mather, where Harvinder needed a 10 to take the match into another shoot-off, but only managed to hit the 8.
By then though he had found the knack of peaking in shoot-offs. And when the time came for the sudden death shot in the bronze-medal match against Kim (who shot an eight), Harvinder hit the 12.2 cm circle for 10.
Congratulations to Harvinder Singh for bringing home bronze medal in archery in a closely fought contest. You played very well and maintained calm under pressure. My best wishes for greater accomplishments in the future.
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) September 3, 2021
“To be frank, I prefer shoot-offs,” he says.
“It helps me to put what we have practiced all these years of concentrating on only one shot and not thinking about the next. Before coming here, coach Gaurav Sharma made me simulate three shoot-offs and it put me in the right kind of mindset. And then in the last few days I’ve been chanting Gurbani verses which helped keep me calm at the right time.”
The Paralympic high is yet to kick-in though, and the celebrations must wait. Once he heads back home with the bronze medal, a welcomed item in his luggage, he has to work quickly to submit his thesis on labour reforms in order to earn a PhD.
“The viva will make me as nervous as I was during the bronze medal match. Hopefully I am ready and defend the thesis,” he quips.