Bhajan Kaur’s rise from obscurity to sealing recurve quota place for India in archery at Paris 2024, has all the emotional ingredients

Bhajan Kaur in action
Bhajan Kaur in action (PC: X)

It was an evening to remember as two Indians, Bhajan Kaur and Ankita Bhakat, kept pushing each other in the recurve event of the Final Olympic Qualifier in Antalya, Turkey on Sunday. Given the depth in Indian archery, someone like seasoned Deepika Kumari was out of the reckoning early. The focus shifted to Bhajan and Ankita as they absorbed pressure in a rich field. At the end, even though Ankita lost in the quarter-finals, Bhajan oozed confidence and fired a gold to seal a quota place for India at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

In any sport, to be kept hanging till the last minute for an Olympic berth is about handling pressure and ensuring the best effort is preserved for the crunch situations. This is where Bhajan, from Sirsa, Haryana, showcased herself as someone who is just 18 but can set the stage on fire. There was that childish joy in her video put out by RevSportz on Sunday night. “Yeah, I have sealed the quota for India and I am thankful to all my supporters, the Indian government, the Tata Academy, Sports Authority of India, Archery Association of India and my coaches and all well-wishers,” said Bhajan after she had the gold medal dangling around her neck.

Bhajan preserved her best for the final, when she took on Iran’s bespectacled Mobina Fallah. Through the matches in the day, the Indian ensured there would be no dip in her form, be it the quarter-finals, semi-finals and then the final. Indeed, the World Archery TV commentators lavished praise on Bhajan, as she stayed composed. Her stance and balance were a delight to watch, positioning herself to release the arrow in the summit clash. That she was hitting the bulls-eye is no cliche.

Nothing seemed to disturb her on a day when the weather was also good. This was a straight fight for gold, as Bhajan had already sealed the quota once she had made the semi-final. The qualifying rules are clear, one quota per country in individual category, but it was important to win this big medal as well. Such confidence has been seen from Deepika in the past, and yes, Jyoti Surekha Vennam in compound archery, which is not an Olympic event.

As coach Purnima told RevSportz in a video: “Bahut accchcha shoot kiya donon ladkiyon ne (both the girls, Harbhajan and Ankita shot well).” The rise of younger athletes on the big stage is a signal of how Indian athletes, across various disciplines, are preparing themselves in the final run to the Paris Olympics.

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Bhajan Kaur
Bhajan Kaur (PC: X)

As things stand, when the final list comes out, India could well make it to the two team events as well in archery, based on rankings, for Paris 2024. World Archery has a proper system in place and going by the current rankings, there is a strong possibility India will have more archers shooting in Paris. The men’s and women’s teams did not do well on Sunday, for the record. But there is good hope, June 24 will decide things in favour of India.

For those who may think Bhajan is a newcomer, don’t make that mistake. She was part of the recurve team event where India won a bronze medal in recurve at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China last year. Given India’s rich haul of 107 medals, archery was not on top in recurve. But then, the most important event was in Antalya in the individual category.

Back to Bhajan, she may not be as famous as Jyoti Surekha, but has followed her passion from a young age. Two years ago, the young girl who hails from a modest background was heart-broken. Bhajan did not have the funds or support to buy the equipment (bow) for a technical event like recurve archery. Her father is a farmer and she was preparing for the Khelo India Games in Haryana. That the family had to borrow money for her to pursue her dream is a story not many will know.

She had shown promise even in her school days, where archery was a sport followed in Sirsa. In Indian sport, there are many untold stories of how an unknown person makes it big. It was by chance, when Bhajan was in Class 8, one day a senior had forgotten her “bow” in school. She got to test it and fell in love with the sport that day, which is well over six years ago.

But the big challenge for the family was to raise Rs 25,000 for the bow, so that Bhajan could have her own stuff to do well. Soon enough, she was competing in the Nationals, across various events. Archery not being a high-profile event, she went unnoticed for years. But then, people in and around Sirsa knew, this cherubic lass would be fulfilling her dream one day. The Antalya gold is just a first step in that direction. Now, Bhajan has a full support system in place which has ensured she can be in peak shape, extremely fit and ready to absorb the big stage pressure. To grab headlines during the ICC T20 World Cup and Euro football is not easy.

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