In a surprising turn of events, three of the four Indian archers who competed at the Tokyo Olympics find themselves out of the 2022 Asian Games squad.
Two of them - the husband-wife duo of Deepika Kumari and Atanu Das - have been among the sport's biggest names in the country for years. Pravin Jadhav, who made his Olympic debut last year, too did not make the cut in the selection trials held over the weekend in Sonipat. This also rules the trio out of the upcoming string of World Cups starting in April, in Antalya (April 17-24), Shanghai (May 15-22) and Paris (June 19-26) and leaves them staring at a barren stretch of months ahead without major competitions.
It does however call into question the rationale of picking a squad for a September event, six months ahead. This, in a sport of fine margins where form can fluctuate.
"We wanted to expose those headed to Asian Games to the three World Cups in the run-up," said a senior Archery Association of India official. "There's no denying that our archers have not delivered at the big events, particularly the Olympics. We are often deluded of our standards because of the medals we win at World Cups, which on most occasions don't have some of the top nations like Korea or China participating. The federation took into account that archers need to be able to withstand pressure in match situations. It's why we introduced one-on-one matches at the selection trials this time. We've been shooting in the red for too long. We now need to hit the tens."
Who made the cut?
Three-time Olympian Tarundeep Rai topped the men's recurve event trials and secured his place in the squad while another veteran and 2012 Olympic team member, Jayanta Talukdar, returned from the cold. Rai and Talukdar were part of the three-member team that won silver at 2005 World Championships, after losing to Korea in the final. Two young faces - Neeraj Chauhan and Sachin Gupta - have also broken into the side.
Ridhi, who finished with a gold at the National Championships earlier this month, topped the women's section. Ankita Bhakat and Komalika Bari, who were part of the gold medal winning women's recurve team at the Guatemala World Cup last year, too found spots, along with Simranjeet Kaur.
However, Deepika and Pravin - who finished in the top eight - have a sliver of hope still to sneak into the Hangzhou Games squad, should any of the top-four archers perform poorly at the World Cups. In such an instance, another round of trials will be held in July. Atanu, however, finds himself completely knocked out of contention since he did not finish inside the top eight.
What was the selection process?
In the first batch of trials conducted from March 7-10, archers were required to shoot six arrows in three minutes and three arrows in 90 seconds in the qualification round. At the end of both events, 12 archers from each category progressed to the Asian Games recurve trials that were held over the weekend. This trial also included the top four finishers from the recent National Championships.
A qualification round of six arrows in three minutes and a one-arrow shoot-off to settle a tie for 16th place was followed by two elimination rounds. Round robin matches were then held where the top eight archers were drawn to face each other, distilling the final squad to four members.
Archers who finished in 1-4 positions at the two-phase trials will travel for the Asian Games and three World Cups. Those who took the 5-8 spots - including Deepika and Pravin - will be eligible to compete in the World Cup Stage 4 in Medellin in July.
Tarundeep Rai, Jayanta Talukdar, Neeraj Chauhan, Sachin Gupta
Ridhi, Komalika Bari, Ankita Bhakat, Simranjeet Kaur