We all love cricket. But loving only cricket isn’t fair. In a nation obsessed over just one sport, the champions in others never get recognized. It is time we change that. This Olympics special column will feature unknown stories of known and unknown persons who will be representing India in this mega event. Learn from the struggle, be inspired by their stories and cheer for their win.
THE SPORT : ARCHERY
In a land where epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana (in which bows and arrows played a crucial role) are known to everyone, I don’t have to introduce you to this. Initially used as a weapon for wars, people had started overlooking bows and arrows when more gruesome, effective weapons were being produced. It returned, but as an official sport. Archery is today accepted as a brilliant skill for the professionals and as an exciting game for the kids.
As in India, the mythology has assured of never letting the sport/skill die out. Though not as widely seen as wrestling, it is a kind of sport that is hard to look down upon. There is an Archery Association of India which ensured that the talented archers are found from the corners and sent to the right place. Such has been the story for many International-level Indian archers today, and such is the story of LaxmiRani Manjhi.
THE HERO’S JOURNEY
Such a fitting name. LaxmiRani Manjhi does have some shades of the popular historical figure in her. But unlike the historic counterpart, she belongs to a low caste. Her father was a coal mine worker, which I think, is one of the meanest job given to mankind. Obviously, the pressure to earn more was sky high. And education had taken over sports and play. But all was not lost.
Manjhi was wired differently. Her maternal uncles opened her to the world of sports. She used to love playing football in the field. Slowly, her interest in sports grew, but still not enough to take it as a serious career. How can she? She wasn’t even introduced to the one sport she is naturally good at!
It was just a normal camp set to select a few archers. Manjhi being a sport, went for it, unknowing of what lied ahead. She finally found what she was born for. The camp was a major turn in her life. That one decision (to take part in the camp) resulted in her being selected to the very prestigious Tata Archery Academy at Jamshedpur. She was on the right track.
But the path wasn’t an easy one. She had to face many hurdles, major of which was her father’s reluctance to accept sports as her career. Her mother stood like a rock and completely trusted her daughter to take this unconventional journey. Let’s not forget the fact that she comes from a small rural place, Chittaranjan in West Bengal. Girls taking up a career, let alone sports, is quite rare.
The next hurdle was sponsorship. Because unless its cricket no one is willing to spend money on you. Though she was the best at academy, finding sponsorship was very difficult. Finally, the Indian Railways came to the rescue and backed her for her world endeavors. And when she stepped out, she proved her worth. She won a silver medal at the World Archery Championship at Copenhagen in 2015. In her small career span, this is her greatest achievement till now. It also brought some happiness back home. And she did manage to make her father proud!
One does wonder how do archers train themselves everyday? Manjhi gave yoga as the answer. Her day begins with Yoga and ends after a long practice schedule. She has taken the Olympics selection very, very seriously and is determined to bring a medal back home.
Sports critics are positive that with Manjhi and two more girls – Deepika Kumari and Bombayla Devi Laishram representing our country, our chances for the first Olympic medal for Archery is very high. All that the players needs is some support.