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Oh! Atanu Das it

Atanu pulls off Goliath performance to beat one of sport’s best, marches into pre-quarters

Published: 30th July 2021 07:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th July 2021 07:52 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Seventy metres. That’s the average distance between a striker in cricket and the boundary rope. That’s also the distance between where an archer stands at the Olympics and where the target is placed. Even if said the target has a diameter of 122cm, archers only really care about hitting the 10-point ri­ng. It measures 12.2 cms in dia­metre. From that far out to the naked eye, it’s about the size of a period at the end of a sentence.

On Thursday, India’s Atanu Das, if he’s to advance to the round of 16, has to keep hitting it. Against others, he can afford the occasional slip up. Against South Korea’s Oh Jin-Hyek — one of the sport’s greatest names — it’s that 10 point ring or bust for the 29-year-old.  

At the Yumenoshima Field, Atanu makes a bad start. His first two efforts are eights. Even if Oh hasn’t made a great start himself, he claims the first two set points. As the camera pans to Deepika Kumari, his wife and the women’s World No 1, the tension is visible. She is doing her utmost to gee up her husband. After consulting with India’s coach during the break, he’s back. Bow in one hand, arrow in another hand, he shoots. It’s a nine. Followed by two further nines. He splits the set with the Korean, who has found a 10 to go with an eight and a nine. 27 apiece.

Like all precision sports, archery lends itself to people who can cut out the noise and just focus on the job. Atanu is doing just that, he’s cut all out noise to shoot three further nines. The Korean finds one more 10 to go with another eight and nine. It’s a 27-apiece again, they split the sets again. The Korean has shot three eights in three sets. He’s looking at the bow as if it’s a cheap replica. It’s 4-2. The Korean needs just one more set, Atanu preferably needs to start converting those nines into 10s to stand a chance.

The Indian starts with an eight and a nine. The Korean responds with a nine and seven. If Atanu can hit a nine, it goes into a fifth set. Bow in one hand and arrow in another, he pulls back the string, releases the arrow. Two seconds later, it lands inside that 12.2 cms ring. Nirvana. Cojones. 4-4. Oh is so taken aback he shoots a six. A six. In tennis terms, that’s like Rafael Nadal being bagelled at the French Open. Twice.

So Oh is so pissed by this challenger from India who has stuck to him like a rash. His fi­rst arrow in the fifth set is a 10. Normalcy resumed. Go ho­me, goodbye. Atanu responds with a 10. Wait, what. Oh shoots a nine, Das responds with a nine. Oh shoots another nine. Das can win with a 10 but he shoots the nine, it’s centimetres away from finding loveliest of spots on that circular target. It’s 5-5. A shootoff will decide who will advance to the Round of 16.

Atanu turns back to the coach and smiles. In the stands, Deepika is screaming her lungs out. Thousands of Indians are barely making sense on social media. Oh is genuinely pissed with himself, he’s almost offended that the Indian has taken him to a shootoff.

While archery shootoffs research is limited, in penalty shootouts — a comparable scenario — the team that kicks first wins 70% of the time. Oh goes first so, by logic, Oh is favourite. He shoots a nine. If Atanu can hit that 12.2 cms from 70 metres away, he will do what archers aren’t supposed to do. Beat South Koreans.

Atanu does exactly that.

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