All that is gold does not glitter, wrote JRR Tolkien. 2016 saw four passages of play which got overshadowed by widely celebrated feats that followed. Hopefully this quartet – to quote from Tolkien’s poem again – ‘a light from the shadows shall spring’ in 2017.
India’s into its seventh day at the Rio Olympics with no signs of a medal on the horizon. The horizon itself is dark with a sleet of rain banging down on the Sambodromo, a beautifully improvised Games venue which is the spiritual home of Rio’s carnival Samba. Today it’s dotted with umbrellas against the downpour and the floodlights attempting to parry back the brooding early night though it’s barely 5 o’clock.
The stage is set for Deepika Kumari to make a tame exit from what is turning out to be a morose Olympics for India.
She’s not risen to the occasion in the team medal-round, and a bitterly deflated country has tuned out Rio not bothering to stay up to follow her imminent departure. There’s few Indians barring her team-mates and one other scribe at the venue; it’s dreary, the cold seeping into bones and I’m home-sick and hungry because I miscalculated travelling time to the Sambodromo, an hour away from the cluster venues.
INSTANCE 2: When Mohammed Shami was breezier than breeze
Watching yet another Indian narrowly miss a win – as I wrongly and wretchedly assume — is going to snap my nerve. I imagine what Deepika must be going through – the ‘Olympic’ expectations thudding inside her heart held steadfast by the Korean moppet-print guard.
She’s standing looking regal and tall, waiting there with a bow even taller than her, when it’s kept on the wet ground.
Pitted against a Georgian Kristine Esebua in the Round of 64, she shoots a perfect 10-10-10 Set 3. Her six 10s in three sets still the restless crowd, with just the pattering of raindrops heard with the periodic whooshing of her arrow that hits the mark. A bunch of American archery fanatics lean against the tape to get a closer look by the time she lines up against Italian Guendelina Sartori, a World Championship team gold medallist.
So, the 21-year-old’s bow poundage (42) — tension strings — are what the men routinely use; it takes extraordinary shoulder strength to pull that off. There’s respect for the Indian showstopper in the trained eyes of assorted coaches and officials at the Sambodoro, though she starts her pre-quarters with a 7, 8 and 9. They’ve watched her win medals at World Cups and World Championships and that famous 686/720 world record at Shanghai where she matched Korean great Ki Bo-Bae.
Quite unknown to Indians back home, Deepika enjoys a cult following among archery’s faithful for the way she can sometimes get into zone and shoot some outrageous 10s back to back to back. Koreans are revered for their consistent, nerveless all-weather outings.
Deepika, though, manages some beastly 10s – arrows that spear past and pierce the inner Xs. “She’s a star at fight sight, did you see her boom boom boom 10s?” Keith, a 45-year-old dad of a wide-eyed son Keaton, asks. He’s seen the “Indian” at meets before, isn’t overtly inquisitive about why she’s not won an Olympic medal before, but wants an autograph of the archer who reminds others in the crowd of watching Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon with his booming serves.
As if on cue, the warrior in the white bucket hat gets 5 straight sensational 10s in the next nine shots, as the applause draws ungrudging squeals of wonderment at what’s just unfolded. Deepika lives to fight another day and grins and bares her heart about what troubles her on bad days. “Not the rains. The winds,” she giggles, before signing the autograph for the Americans and waving to an adoring crowd. The medal’s a few rounds away — it vanishes with a 6-0 loss the next day, a bright sunny one against a Taipese and with the world watching with greedy expectation.
Aggro’s the flavour of the next week as Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu win India medals with guttural cries. The painfully quiet Deepika Kumari is a non-story immediately after her loss, but my home-sickness is gone watching this star shine in that stormy sky.