Alejandra Valencia is 26. The Mexican recurve archer has been to two Olympics, 2012 and 2016, and has come up short of her medal-expectations, making the Games a not-so-happy memory for her. It’s a career in international archery that started with much promise as she battled for bronze at London in 2012, and ended a heartbreaking fourth.
The home contender meets a bit of a mirror image in the World Cup finals at the Sports Complex Los Arcos in Guatemala, Mexico. Seeded 7th, she faces 3rd seed Indian Deepika Kumari in the season’s first final.
Aged 26 herself, Deepika is a veteran of two Olympics too. The world archery federation’s match description noted that the much-loved figure in the sport — owing to her prodigious talent since she burst on the scene as a star at 16 — has been shooting “more solid, than spectacular” when making the individual finals. Disappointments litter the last decade, but there’s a doughty determination that those watching her keep looking for in her game as another Games creep up steadily on the horizon with all the uncertainty associated with them.
Yet amidst the chaos, archers are looking to gather their nerves and aim at the yellow circle, dreaming of the gold disc in July at Tokyo.
Deepika has two World Cup individual gold medals — at Antalya in 2012, in what seems like a debut title a distant decade away. Her last came at Salt Lake City in 2018. She also has 6 silver medals.
But for a decorated archer of her calibre, though a gold in this depleted field won’t add to her stature, it will definitely boost her confidence about coming through stiff face-off challenges.
— World Archery (@worldarchery) April 22, 2021
However, it is in the team finals that Deepika will be expected to pull her weight. With the global powerhouses Korea, China, Taipei not travelling, India lines up against the hosts Mexico, not a crushable team by any measure. Yet the Indians comprising Deepika alongwith youngsters Ankita Bhakat and Komalika Bari start as favourites.
India has a storied legacy in women’s team events with 4 gold medals, but Deepika has always had seniors like Dola Banerjee, Bombayala Devi, Laxmi Majhi and Chekrovolu Swuro around her in the last 15 years. This time, she’s a senior herself and expected to carry the responsibility of shepherding the young inexperienced teammates.
Besides Alejandra Valencia, Mexico have Pan Am champ Ana Vazquez, an ebullient and super confident archer who revels when shooting in front of her home team. Vazquez is also known for her celebratory jigs which send adoring crowds into peals and hoots of cheering, though the atmosphere will be rather sedate as sport looks to get off the mark while keeping a virus at bay.
The Indian archers received their vaccine shots earlier last month, but the sport settings still remain anxious and sombre. Still, Guatemala is the rivals’ home turf. And Deepika will be expected to bring in all her experience into play.
She will have a special grudge score to settle against the Mexicans who dumped the Indian mixed team of Deepika and Atanu Das out, in a shootoff for a place in the final. So, Deepika-Atanu will instead fight USA for bronze on the morning of Sunday.
However, the women’s team is keen on hitting some form ahead of June when they go for the final Olympic qualifying in Paris. Indian women’s teams have not missed out on the Games in the last decade. So there is pressure to make it this time.
“It’s important because we are not qualified (for the Olympics) yet. So it’s very important that we shoot well and improve as quickly as possible,” Deepika was quoted by PTI. “If we win, our confidence level will increase. If we shoot well here, we’ll get confidence and shoot well at the next event. And then we’ll gain more confidence, and shoot better.”
Standing alongside her is the youth world champion Komalika Bari, a good relaxed foil to her senior’s nervous disposition. She was quoted as saying: “I fit well (in the team)… I’m doing better now and I’m feeling more confident. They only shoot in 10s and I just have to keep it in the yellow to get a win.”
The Olympic quota is coveted in the future, but in Mexico, it’s the gold the women’s team will aim for.