From almost becoming shot-putter to archery Olympic qualification: Bhajan Kaur's story

Till now, the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou has been her only experience where she was part of a larger India contingent that went beyond just archers.
Coming from an agricultural family, recurve archery was never a first-choice sport for Kaur; it was shot put.
Coming from an agricultural family, recurve archery was never a first-choice sport for Kaur; it was shot put.(Photo | Express)

CHENNAI: When Deepika Kumari first represented India in the 2012 Olympics, Bhajan Kaur, an archer from Haryana, was only seven years old. Fast forward to Paris 2024, and Kaur, along with Kumari and Ankita Bhakat, is part of India's women's archery team in the Olympics.

Bhajan had already secured the individual quota by clinching gold at the final world qualifying tournament in Antalya before World Cup stage three. Days later, the women's team also gained the quota based on the updated World Archery rankings.

India topped the rankings among the non-qualified nations in both men’s and women’s sections to seal their team quotas. With that, India has an opportunity to compete in all five medal events in Paris - men’s and women’s teams, individual, and mixed categories.

"It was a great feeling when I won the individual quota because we had none for women before that," Kaur told this daily.

"Winning the gold medal in the world qualifier also gave us the confidence that we could do better in the World Cup that followed and clinched the team's quota. We were all together when we received the news that we had earned the team quota. It took us some time and we had to put in some fight, but I am happy," the 18-year-old added.

Coming from an agricultural family, recurve archery was never a first-choice sport for Kaur; it was shot put.
Ankita, Bhajan earn individual quotas in archery for Paris Olympics

Coming from an agricultural family, recurve archery was never a first-choice sport for Kaur; it was shot put.

"I used to practice for shot put. One of those days my teacher, Parminder sir, asked why don't you give archery a chance. We didn't have any girl archers in the under-14 level and I decided to give it a go. One of the senior players saw me practice and reassured me that I was doing well. Then we went from Ellenabad to Hisar. When we went to the district place, Mehra sir told me I could go places with my archery. Then I took it seriously. Earlier, my father and I used to travel to Sirsa for practice, but then he installed the target at our home. Later, I got selected for Tata Archery Academy and I have been practising there for almost three years now,” Kaur said.

"In Jamshedpur, I learned under Korean coach Lim (Lim Chae Woong), even Purnima Mahato ma'am was there. At the Academy, we had a specific practice schedule, which helped me improve my game. Then I went on to play and win in various national competitions. When I realized that we had a shot at a quota for Paris, I tried to give my best to get it. And now finally we have it and we will go to represent India in the Olympics, it is a surreal feeling," she added.

Coming from an agricultural family, recurve archery was never a first-choice sport for Kaur; it was shot put.
India secures Olympic archery team quotas for Paris 2024

Once Kaur learned the tricks of the game, the sky was the limit. Multiple national and international competitions followed and the bond with her seniors like Bhakat and Deepika grew even stronger. It was a mix of learning from the experienced players and at the same time standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them on the big stage. It was a big learning curve for the teenager.

"Obviously, both of them are senior to me and have immense experience of playing at the international level. They have helped me a lot and they keep things simple. Because they have been through many phases, they tell me about things that could potentially go wrong, so I can prepare for those cases in advance. We sit and talk about each other's strengths and then decide who wants to take the arrow first," one can sense the respect for the seniors from Kaur.

Till now, the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou has been her only experience where she was part of a larger India contingent that went beyond just archers.

Coming from an agricultural family, recurve archery was never a first-choice sport for Kaur; it was shot put.
India secures Olympic archery team quotas for Paris 2024

"It was a different experience from Archery World Cups and World Championship events. It was a completely new experience for me to be a part of the athletes' village during the Asian Games. All of the matches there were played on the podium. To be honest for me it was a mix of excitement and nervousness. However, we went into the game thinking whatever the situation may be, we wanted to give our best."

India was successful at the event as the women's team bagged the team bronze medal in the recurve event.

After all of this success at this young age, Kaur wants to soak it all in. She remembers her roots and continues to give credit to her family for who she is today.

"I can't even imagine what would have happened if my father had not installed the target at home. I don't think I am where I am without all the sacrifices my family has made. When I started I had to manage school and practice, and it would not have been possible without my mother's help," Kaur said.

At the Paris Olympics, Kaur will be one of the youngest participants representing India in archery. The youngster is keen on learning from the best and improving herself. Maybe one day the girl from Haryana might just win the Olympic medal for India.

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