The story behind India’s compound coronation at worlds in Berlin
When the Indian team touched down on the tarmac at Berlin Brandenburg before this year’s Hyundai World Archery Championships in Germany, it arrived without a single title to its name.
But by the time the wheels were up for the flight home – the squad had three.
Having finished runner-up in 2021, the compound women’s team authored Indian archery’s watershed moment with aplomp during the first finals session in front of the Olympic Stadium in the German capital. Jyothi Surekha Vennam, Aditi Gopichand Swami and Parneet Kaur dropped just five points between them in a dismantling of Mexico.
Teammates then, opponents 24 hours later.
All three archers had made it through to the final eight of the individual competition.
For years, it has been Vennam flying the Indian flag. The 27-year-old arrived in Berlin with six world championship medals, including individual silver two years ago in Yankton – and individual bronze two years prior to that in Den Bosch.
But it wasn’t Vennam who would completely smash the glass ceiling.
Instead, it was 17-year-old Swami, the recently crowned under-18 world champion, who took the giant leap, making history for her nation by taking individual gold at the World Archery Championships, beating Vennam in the semifinals before dispatching Andrea Becerra in the final.
The magnitude of what she had achieved was yet to dawn on the teenager in her post-match interview, as she became not only India’s first individual worlds winner, but also the youngest champion of the World Cup-era (2006-on).
“I am very proud,” she admitted. “I wanted to hear the 52 seconds of the national anthem to be played at the world championships.”
“I was focusing on my rhythm, on my shot, and therefore I could perform.”
“It is really great that at 17 I could become the world champion. I want to thank all my supporters and everyone in India.”
“This is just the start. We have the Asian Games coming up, I want to win gold for the country and continue to win team gold, too.”
While the individual gold might not have been directly awarded to Vennam, the path to an Indian victory is indelibly inked with her footsteps.
She has been a figurehead for the country’s compound women for almost a decade, having been just 19 when she claimed the compound women’s title at the 2015 Asian Archery Championships.
Vennam lent nothing but support despite ceding success to her younger teammate.
“I am happy that I could win the bronze medal,” she said. “We are very happy that we are taking back two gold medals.”
“We hope that this will continue and that the tradition will continue and that we will be able to get more and more gold medals for the country.”
A proven winner on the world stage, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Vennam’s quiet demeanour belies a ruthless athlete. Perversely, Vennam not being the first champion might be best, if India wishes to continue on this trajectory.
Because competition breeds success.
Two golds would have represented a transformative World Archery Championships for Indian archery, but the country’s compound coronation was sealed on Saturday as Ojas Pravin Deotale powered to the compound men’s title to complete a glorious golden hattrick.
“It is like a dream to me,” said Deotale. “I still am dreaming. It was just a thought I could win the individual gold medal but today I did it for my country.”
The 21-year-old had no individual result on his record prior to Berlin, although had partnered with Vennam for two mixed team victories on the Hyundai Archery World Cup already in 2022.
“Each and every supporting staff, everyone is behind these gold medals,” continued Pravin. “Hopefully, there will be more medals. We have the Asian Games next and I am focusing on that.”
That Vennam was joined in Berlin by two prodigious teenage talents and Deotale romping to victory was no accident.
Now under the direct tutelage of former Italian international Sergio Pagni, who first began lending advice abroad in 2018 but became a travelling coach with the squad this season, India’s compound team has taken the final step to clinch that elusive world gold medal.
Pagni is no stranger to world championship results himself, having earned back-to-back mixed team victories in 2011 and 2013. Sergio believes the performances in Berlin can herald the start of an exciting era for Indian archery.
“I am very proud,” he says. “You can’t ask for much better.”
“Maybe a better qualification so we avoid early matches between Indian athletes,” Sergio adds with a wry smile. All three of his compound women were on one side of the quarterfinal bracket.
“It’s a great team and working with them I am happy, it is easy, they are young and understand what the focus is for India and the nation, but also to achieve personal results,” he continues, turning his attention to Swami. “What more can I ask of a 17-year-old? It is amazing.”
“We started this project in December of last season. The number and quality of the athletes is so high.”
Pagni has implemented a strict programme among the young Indian archers.
“I have my method of coaching,” he explains. “I had already coached several athletes around the world so I know what it takes for them to shine in big moments.”
“Someone said to me I arrived in India to find diamonds, but it’s not true. I arrived in India and took some pieces of stone that looked like they would shine, and made them clear.”
There is more to come.
“I found a number of very good athletes, and they are still growing. We can still be talking about India in compound for several years,” he says. “India is so proud of these girls. The Prime Minister even tweeted about the first-ever team title yesterday.”
“Today we have two women on the podium. That is extremely high quality – but we easily could have been gold, silver, and bronze.”
“It is really satisfying for me, the Indian federation and the flag.”