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Making a mark

SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA
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ARCHERY Immense concentration and a high level of fitness are important for success in the sport, says coach Brijesh Kumar

It may not sound like a lot but Karnataka’s tally of three medals from last week’s sub-junior national archery championships here made history. It was the first time, in the competition’s 33 editions, that the State had managed that many – a silver in the 60m recurve for Monisha Shankar; another in the mixed team recurve for the pair of Monisha and Abhiraj Singh Dev; and a bronze for S.P. Thanusha in the 30m Indian round – at once.

Sitting at the foot of one of the Sree Kanteerava Stadium’s giant floodlight towers, Brijesh Kumar basks in the warm afterglow of success – one that, no matter how seemingly moderate, ought to be appreciated. “We came back empty-handed last year and the year before. This time, as hosts, our pride was at stake,” he says. As coach of the Karnataka team, Brijesh oversaw a four-week camp ahead of the championships. “It was a residential camp. The Karnataka Amateur Archery Association made sure nothing was lacking. I am proud of how well we eventually did.”

At 29, Brijesh may be relatively young for a coach but he’s the only qualified one in the entire State. “There was one before me, when I first entered the sport in 1999, but he was removed two years later,” he reveals. “I started coaching the younger archers even as I was competing.” He completed his coaching badges in 2008, but is yet to be formally appointed by the Sports Authority of Karnataka. “I have been making applications for the last three years but nothing has come of them. Instead, it’s the Association that pays my wages. I hope those in charge will sit up and take notice now.”

Despite having been around for long in Karnataka, archery barely registers in the public consciousness. The talent pool is limited, with just over a hundred archers to choose from at the State championships. “We have surges in interest whenever Deepika Kumari wins something,” Brijesh says. “On the other hand, there can also be a palpable dip, like when she disappointed at the Olympics.”

The cost of equipment is also seen as a major deterrent to any prospective archers. While a wooden set costs inside of Rs.5,000, good, imported kits – seen as necessary – need 1.5 lakh at least. “The Association provides basic equipment but it’s true that the sport is not cheap,” Brijesh admits. “A middle-class family cannot be expected to spend Rs.25,000 on a dozen arrows alone.”

But there has been gradual growth in participation in the State, particularly in places like Bagalur and Chikmagalur where the sport has the backing of a local school. “We feel the best way to spread the sport is through schools. Our plan is to take it to more of them,” Brijesh states.

He insists that archery is not a difficult skill to grasp. “You can be trained in six months. While some are naturally talented with the way they hold a bow and draw it back, everyone has to work.” Archers need, understandably, immense levels of concentration and – a less-widely-appreciated aspect – good physical fitness. “You need strength in your shoulders and your legs or you can’t compete,” he explains. “Then there are eyesight exercises, also meditation.”

With the likes of Monisha, Abhiraj and Thanusha – all of whom Brijesh believes have the potential to go far – on the scene, the future appears mildly promising for Karnataka.

“With better facilities and support, we can be one of the State’s top teams in any sport,” Brijesh feels. “And yes, we also need more coaches.”

SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA

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