Deepika Kumari scripts fairy-tale comeback to claim maiden World Cup medal as a mother

Deepika Kumari
Deepika Kumari (PC: World Archery website)

Deepika Kumari made the world sit up and take notice by claiming her 30th medal in World Cup Stage competitions with the silver medal in the women’s individual Recurve competition in the Archery World Cup Stage 1 competition in Shanghai, China, on Sunday. More than the medal, her intensity and hunger marked her return to global competition after more than 22 months.

In some ways, her comeback story all but overshadowed the  Indian men’s recurve team’s dominant 5-1 victory over redoubtable South Korea in the final. The focussed and relentless approach of Dhiraj Bommadevara, Tarundeep Rai and Pravin Jadhav paid them rich dividends as they stunned the formidable Korean squad.

Dhiraj, Tarundeep and Pravin were undaunted when facing the Korean squad that included an Olympic medallist, three-time World Champion and World No. 6 Kim Woo-jin, World No. 4 Lee Woo-seok and Kim Je-deok, double-gold winner at Tokyo 2020 and World No. 12. 

Dhiraj (World No. 14), Tarundeep (29) and Pravin (155) were driven by a desire to make it to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games line-up and shot brilliantly. The last World Cup Stage gold for an Indian men’s team came in Shanghai in September 2010.

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Ranked World No. 142 but immensely respected by archers around the world, Deepika had good reason to be delighted with her podium finish in the first World Cup Stage on return from childbirth. The 29-year-old’s last top-three finish in a World Cup Stage competition was achieved back in Paris in June 2021.

Of course, there was an early indicator of her desire to get to her fourth Olympic Games when, within months of delivering her child, she picked up the bow to get back to the sport. She did well in the National trials to edge ahead of many of her compatriots to the team. And, by winning the 2024 Asia Cup Leg 1 in Baghdad in February, she made a statement.

On her way to the final in Shanghai, Deepika scalped Katharina Bauer, World No. 12 who was part of Germany’s bronze-winning team in the Berlin World Championships last year, Elisabetta Mijno (Italy), a three-time Paralympic medallist, and two South Koreans, Jeon Hun-yong, a 2009 World Youth Championships bronze medal, and 19-year-old Nam Suh-yeon.

Her quarterfinal victory over Jeon Hun-yong was the best illustration of her fighting spirit. After losing the opening set 27-28 and tying the second 27-27, Deepika dug deep to win the next two sets 29-28 and 29-27. A 28-28 tie in the fifth set gave her a 6-4 win, a reflection of the fire raging in her belly.

These wins came after what she will herself admit was an underwhelming qualifying when she scored 656 and was ranked 30th. Worse followed as the Indian women’s team exited early with a 3-5 loss to Mexico. It is a reflection of her determination and focus that she scripted a comeback from such reverses and cruised to the final.

Deepika Kumari
Deepika Kumari (Source: SAI/X)

The dreaded 7 returned to haunt her with just the second arrow in the final against Lim Si-hyeon (South Korea). Having started with a hit to the inner 10 (X), this dragged her down and denied her the chance of making the most of the Korean’s desperate and futile search for the 10s. Before long, she lost the first set.

After a 10 with the first arrow in the second set, she was done in by an 8 on the third which saw her lose by two points and trail 0-4. Without a 10 in the third set, Deepika Kumari bowed out but she can look back at her overall effort in the individual competition with immense pride. It is creditable that she bounced back after a none-too-impressive show in the qualifying.

“I‘m very happy to return to the team in such an important year,” Deepika told the World Archery website after the quarterfinals. “I’m happy to do what I’ve wanted to do for so long. I just wanted to play, for myself. Yesterday was a very bad day in the team event. I was very frustrated. But after talking to my psychologist, I came with a positive mindset and that helped.”

On Saturday, Jyoti Surekha Vennam was the toast of the Indian side with a triple-gold finish in the Compound events. She combined with Aditi Swami and Parneet Kaur to help India beat Italy in the team final, and partnered Abhishek Verma to win the Mixed Team crown, with a win over Estonia’s Lisell Jaatma and Robin Jaatma, before beating Mexico’s Andrea Becerra in the individual final.

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