Tribal archers target Commonwealth Games (Feature)

Jamshedpur, Nov 29 ( The dusky girl with a fetching dimple from Ratu village near Ranchi is barely 16 – and an ace archer. Meet Deepika Kumari, who won the gold medal in the cadet (junior) category at the World Archery Youth Championships at Ogden in the US in 2009. She is a product of the Tata Archery Academy that has produced many champions over the years.

Deepika trains for more than nine hours a day. She is preparing for the Commonwealth Games 2010 and the Asian Games thereafter at the sprawling Tata Archery Academy here.

The academy’s alumnus boasts of names like Dola Banerjee, the 2007 World Cup gold winner, Rahul Banerjee, the 2008 World Cup gold winner and Jayanta Talukdar, the 2006 World Cup gold winner. Its archers have won 753 national medals and 169 international medals.

“I was a little scared while competing in the US, but my coach Purnima Mahto gave me the courage. I am confident of making it to the Indian team at the Commonwealth Games as well as the Asian Games, which is scheduled soon after the Commonwealth Games,” Deepika Kumari told Inditop in between her morning practice session.

Deepika’s inspiration is Arjuna awardee Jayanta Talukdar, another Tata Academy fellow, who ranked world number one in July 2009.

The academy has put together a team of four men and four women archers for selection to the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games contingents.

The Tata Archery Academy, an integral part of the Tata Steel’s sports department – one of the company’s primary Corporate Social Responsibility component – was set up in 1996 to train and promote local archers from villages in Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, where the company has its mines and industries. It later spread its wings countrywide to handpick tribal talent for its four-year residential course.

Tata Steel was conferred the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar by the president of India in 2009 for its contribution to sports.

The archery academy currently has 21 cadets between 13 and 18 years – 12 girls and nine boys – who stay at the academy, train and study in the local school. Most of them are from poor families in the villages, the cost of their training, stay, education, equipment and exposure at different tournaments around the world is borne by the company.

“It took us a decade to hone our archers to win laurels at the international level. This region is a treasure house of archery talent because the local ethnic people have been using bow and arrows for centuries,” coach Purnima Mahto told Inditop.

Located on a landscaped stretch at the mammoth GRD Tata Sports Complex in the city- the academy comprises a huge training range that offers “targets” between 30 metres to 90 metres distance – which are the Federation of International Archers’ (FITA) distance stipulation.

“Archers have to prove their aim in four distance categories – 30 metres, 50 metres, 60-70 metres and 90 metres. While for girls, the distance cap is 70 metres, for boys, it’s 90 metres,” coach Dharmendra Tiwari told Inditop.

The academy also has a hostel for the cadets, two state-of-the-art gyms, a swimming pool, meditation and yoga centre and a stadium (with 40,000 seats) with a synthetic track where the archers train for “strength, agility and mind powers”.

“Besides, we also conduct regular counselling and motivation sessions, draw up special diet charts, hire foreign coaches (mostly from South Korea) and send our cadets abroad for training. The performance of each cadet is reviewed. Sometimes, we even weed out cadets if they fail to perform,” Captain Amitabh, head of the Tata Steel sports department, told Inditop.

Foreign training helps, says national champion Atanu Das, a cadet from Kolkata, “who went to (South) Korea for training from the TAA”.

The academy has four feeder centres in the Tata Steel mines located in the tribal interiors, from where it sources local talent.

“Besides, we also pick up talent from the SAIL Archery Academy in Kiriburu, the Ekalavya Academy (run by the state government at Kharsawan in East Singhbhum) and from around the states. We also have a former archery champion V.V.S.N. Rao, who advises us on strategies,” Amitabh said.

The training is gruelling. “Archers begin their day with a four-hour morning training at 8.30 a.m. followed by an afternoon session at 3 p.m. Night training begins at 6 p.m. They practise with imported bows and the standard set of 144 arrows. It is interspersed with strength and mind training and regular studies. Education is important to help the archers communicate and improve IQ,” Purnima Mahto said.

Coach Rupesh Singh monitors the practice sessions with a laptop. He records the speed and target range of the cadets every day and maintains “flow charts of their progress”.

The academy also sets target scores for probable champions that can fetch them medals.

Rimil Biruly, a local archer who won a bronze in the 2009 World Cup in Turkey, told IANS: “I will make it to both the Commonwealth and the Asian Games squads. I did not know anything about archery till 2004 when I joined the Jharkhand Academy Association. I was later picked by the Tata Archery Academy� which has given me edge and confidence.”