Ace Archer Bommadevera Dhiraj Shows Resilience to Fly Indian Flag in Berlin

Credit: World Archery

Bommadevara Dhiraj has raised a sliver of hope in the Indian archery community with a fine showing in cold, wind and rain at the World Archery Championships in Berlin. Not only did he finish second in the qualification round with a tally of 683 points, including the third most 10s, he helped the Indian men’s team make it to the quarterfinals.

His effort, along with Mrinal Chauhan and Tushar Shelke in the team event, would add to Dhiraj’s confidence ahead of the individual event.  The Indians did well to hold their nerves and rally from 2-4 to beat Malaysia 5-4, topping the 3-arrow tie-break 28-26, before defeating a higher-ranked France 5-3.

They ran in to Korea in the quarterfinals, managing to tie the second set 57-57 but unable to stop the colossus from striding away to victory. Had they got into the medal round and succeeded in returning with a medal, it would have been only the third time after 2005 and 2019 that the Indian flag would flown after the men’s team competition.

The harsh truth is India has not yet sent an individual Recurve archer to the podium in the World Archery Championships. All four Recurve medals have come in men’s and women’s team events. And besides five team medals in Compound, Rajat Chauhan and Jyoti Surekha Vennam (two) have won individual medals.

Yet, this did not come in the way of Dhiraj shooting well. He handled the challenge presented by cold wind in the first half and rain in the second to post his season’s best score, 683, only two short of the career-best. His score has ensured that he would draw a bye to the third round of the individual competition. But he knows that the real competition lies ahead of him.

Fans typically tend to react to each performance, but it is also important to realise that sport is about embracing consistency. And in archery, gaps between performance in the qualification round, which spark ripples of excitement, and performance in the matches that follow have nearly always be seen. He will be well aware of that.

And while sport demands that its practitioners keep the mind the present, Dhiraj can draw comfort from the fact that he won bronze in the season’s opening World Cup competition in Antalya, Turkey, where he scored a fine 6-5 fourth round victory over Brady Ellison, the redoubtable American ace, and a 6-4 win against Tarundeep Rai, his seasoned team-mate, in the quarterfinals.

In what was perhaps a more competitive World Cup in Shanghai, he made it to the fourth round where he lost 0-6 to Korea’s Oh Hin Hyek. In June, he bowed out in the first round itself, losing 4-6 to Chinese Taipei’s Tau Yu-Hsuan, in the World Cup Stage 3 in Medellin. He had scored 665 (15th), 656 (13th) and 669 (23rd) in respective World Cup competitions.

That he has continued to keep in touch with coach Kim Hagyong, though the Korean returned home many months back, has kept him in good stead. Coupled with the mind work with sports psychologist Mugdha Bavare, thanks to Olympic Gold Quest, Dhiraj has evolved as a very competitive archer.

He could well have been lost to Archery after the trials but the Army Sports Institute, where he trained as a civilian, played no mean role in helping him pick up a job with the Army. It could not have come at a more opportune time since his father Shrawan Kumar no longer held his job as a school teacher.

There is no knowing if he felt hard done by in the March 2021 trials to pick the Indian team for the Olympic Games in 2021. He finished a close fourth only because Tarundeep had the advantage of an extra point because he was part of the team that earned the quota for India. But missing out seems to have driven him to raise his game.

He had done that in 2017 when he did not make it to the Indian team for the Youth World Championships after finishing eighth in the trials. Back then, it was Olympic Gold Quest which roped him in and kept him focused and interested in his dream of doing well for India, seeded in the Cherukuri Volga-Lenin Academy in Vijayawada.

Such milestones about comebacks from selection blips are not obvious when coaches around the world pencil him as a potential threat to their wards, but there can be no doubt that these misses and near-misses have played important roles in shaping the lad who is just 21 and has a long road ahead.

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