Golden focus, golden opportunity for India in Dubai

India's mixed team at Dubai 2022

Indian archery has long been on the rise – and over the last five years, since the county’s Paralympic debut in the sport at Rio 2016, that progress has quickly been mirrored by its para athletes.

To date, there’s been no Indian world champion at the senior level. But with a nine-strong team in Dubai this week for the 2022 World Archery Para Championships, that could change – and the squad has already confirmed its best-ever result at this level of competition, with at least a silver.

“I am excited to be back on the shooting line and hope to go home with my first world championship medal,” said compounder Jyoti Baliyan ahead of the start of competition. 

She’s now secured that, after her and teammate Shyam Sundar Swami saw off Iraq, Italy and France to set up a gold medal match in the compound mixed team event against archers from the Russian Archery Federation, which will take place this Friday (25 February).

Like plenty of para archers, India’s team knows the host venue for the world championships well, with the Dubai Club for People of Determination used for the annual Fazza Para Archery World Ranking Tournament.

“I always have had good results in Dubai,” added Jyothi, who was also competing in the individual and compound women’s doubles events. “It’s a great feeling to enter the finals at the start of the championships and Dubai has been a happy hunting ground for the entire team. I hope to make it memorable.”

India's Adil Mohamed Nazir Ansari at Dubai 2022

Competition in Dubai is separate by division. Matchplay for compound archers is now complete, save for the medal matches on Friday, while qualifying for recurve and W1 athletes starts tomorrow (Thursday 24 February).

Rakesh Kumari made the last eight, Sunder Swami the last 16 and Jyothi the last 32. Both men’s and women’s doubles got to the quarterfinal.

And Sundar Swami and Jyoti are the Indian compounders’ shot at an historic medal in Dubai.

“I had that feeling that I could go for the gold,” said Sundar Swami. “There is a lot of wind but we have trained shooting in all conditions. I’m thinking about taking the gold medal in the final. Dubai is lucky for the Indian team.”

The confidence is in evidence throughout the team with one of the Indian coaches, Kuldeep Kumar, praising the entire delegation but not leaving any doubt about what the goal is in the UAE.

“We have a very balanced team with Paralympic and Asian Para Games medallists, plus world ranking tournament medallists and they have worked very hard for the last few months in all aspects of their game,” he said.

“There’s a lot of expectation from the archers [and] we are eyeing the elusive world medal – gold – this time.”

India's Harvinder Singh wins bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

There’s hope later in the week, too. This Indian delegation also includes Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games recurve men’s bronze medallist Harvinder Singh, who starts competition tomorrow, exactly one day before his birthday. He turns 31 on Friday.

“Like every other archer here I will be very happy to go back home with a medal,” said Singh, who trained during lockdown at his family farm in Ajitnagar, Punjab.

“But right now, I am not thinking about this. The target is to shoot well this week and the results will follow. There’s a lot of excitement within the team as this is the first event after Tokyo 2020 [but] this championship is also very important in terms of analysing our game and knowing where we stand right now.”

“As this is the start of the season, the event will also give a direction to our plans ahead,” added Singh, who is ranked 13th in the world going into the event.

“Mentally I am very confident. But I don’t want to be overconfident or be under pressure by setting any target in the championships. I want to just focus on shooting a good score. That’s what I did at the Paralympics and Asian Para Games also. I want to follow the same strategy – stay calm, focused and shoot well.”

Photos courtesy Yayha Essa (Dubai Club for People of Determination).

Quotes courtesy Priyanka Sharma (organising committee) and Antoni Cichy.