Deepika Kumari: “I was wondering if I’d be able to draw the bow again”

Deepika Kumari is coming out of the shadows after Tokyo 2020

World number two recurver Deepika Kumari has opened up to journalist Susan Ninan about her personal and professional journey following the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

In a fascinating ESPN India feature, Kumari talks about a variety of topics, starting with her Olympic Games disappointment, when she lost in the quarterfinal against eventual gold medallist An San and the low period and self-doubt which followed.

“I know I wasn't good enough in Tokyo or I’d have a medal with me today,” she says in the interview. “When you fail after you've told yourself: ki yeh karna hi hai (that I have to do this), you begin to doubt everything you know. I began to wonder what I am even doing with myself anymore.”

Her husband and fellow Indian archer at Tokyo 2020, Atanu Das, also went out before the medal rounds, neither able to bring India its first archery medal at the Olympic Games.

“When you’re thinking we don't have a single medal in history so we can’t mess this up, it’s just the wrong sort of pressure,” says Kumari, who was twice a world champion as a youth archer as well as winning the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

“Between us (her and Das), I think I was [the] more devastated after Tokyo.”

Just five months after Tokyo, both Kumari and Das were eliminated in the first round of the Indian national ranking tournament in January, resulting in the couple not making the squad for the Asia Cup which starts later this month.

They were then removed from the Indian Government-supported ‘Target Olympic Podium’ scheme which provides support and assistance to elite athletes.

Phir se bow kheench paenge ya nahi soch rahi thi (I was wondering if I’d be able to draw the bow again). It was hard to switch off completely,” says Kumari in the feature.

Kumari and her husband took a break, moving to train at a new, private facility in India. Then it was time to shoot again, but somewhere a bit different: indoors in the USA. A self-funded trip to take part in both the Lancaster Archery Classic and The Vegas Shoot was liberating, with Das singing the praises of the legendary talker Brady Ellison both on and off the line, while Kumari felt a weight off her shoulders.

“The indoor event was freeing,” says the 27-year-old Kumari. “It was like a mela (fair). No tension, no pressure, everyone’s there to shoot arrows and enjoy themselves. That's the sort of attitude we need to build. We’re always overthinking and sometimes taking on pressures that aren’t even supposed to be ours.”

Kumari is well used to pressure, having become recurve women’s world number one for the first time at just 18. She regained the top position for a short while last year after winning two stages of the Hyundai Archery World Cup stage in the lead up to the Olympics, including the last in Paris.

While Paris will undoubtedly be on her mind again, with the French capital hosting the Games in 2024, more pressing competitions are ahead – the Indian selection trials for the 2022 Asian Games begin on Monday, and the 2022 Hyundai Archery World Cup starts again in April in Turkey.

“I can’t run away,” she says. “In my early days, I was excited to just be able to go for competitions, nothing else mattered [but] as I turned older and I knew people were watching me, the pressure to win a medal grew.”

“If you let that get to you, you lose focus. I’m trying to get better at positive self-talk, goal-setting and worrying less.”

Kumari is already the most-decorated Indian archer of all time.

Read the full feature on ESPN India.

Follow Deepika Kumari on Instagram.

Follow ESPN India on Twitter.

Follow the writer of this story, Susan Ninan, on Twitter.