January 2018 | Cynthia Rodrigues | 1052 words | 4-min read
The contest was down to the wire. The Indian women’s compound archery team at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, had won the first round with a two-point lead, lost the second round by two points, and tied the third round. They were in a nerve-wracking tie against South Korea, one that they lost by just three points to win the silver.
The moment was historic despite the near miss. It was the first time that the Indian women’s team had won a compound archery medal at the Asian Games.
For archer Madhumita Kumari, who turned 21 that day, the win was even more special since it was her first medal at an international sporting event. It was also a reminder of how far she had travelled since she began learning the basics of the sport at a Tata Steel Feeder Centre in 2007.
Madhumita was only ten when selectors from Tata Steel’s newly established feeder centres in Jharkhand had walked into her school and invited students to sign up for training in archery. Back then, Madhumita, daughter of a miner who is employed in Tata Steel’s coal mines, knew nothing about the sport.
“The only thing I knew about archery was that Reena Kumari, an archer who represented India at the Olympics, was a former student of my school. This fact sparked in me the desire to learn archery,” she said.
Madhumita cleared the first level in the selection process, where athletes were assessed on sharpness of vision, strength of the arms and shoulder muscles, mental agility and focus.
This was followed by a week-long camp, organised by Tata Steel, where she didn’t perform too well. But the selectors saw something in her and soon returned with a call for entry at the Tata Steel Feeder Centre in West Bokaro.
Hardly had Madhumita known then that the path she was embarking on would turn into a passion and a career on the world stage.
The First Step
The Tata Steel Feeder Centre became a high point in the lives of the 10 boys and 10 girls who enrolled in the archery programme. For Madhumita, who hails from the Mukundbera Ghatotand area of Ramgarh district, it meant walking 4 km each way — after returning from school at 3pm— to get to the Feeder Centre where the practice sessions were held for an hour daily. On Sundays, the sessions extended beyond the stipulated hour.
For nearly four months, the sessions consisted of only exercises to build the strength, stamina and flexibility of the athletes so that they could wield the heavy bow. The first practice sessions were held with a lightweight bow, which is used only in India for competitions held up to the national level.
Gradually, Madhumita developed the skill to start practicing with the recurve bow, and then with the compound archery bow, which weighs about 7-8kg and offers greater stability. As she gained proficiency in archery, Madhumita started winning medals at the state as well as the national level. In fact, she has won over 50 medals since she started competitive archery.
Madhumita, who stayed at the Feeder Centre for around nine months, says she owes her passion in archery to Tata Steel, which spotted and harnessed her talent. During that time, she says, “I participated in the nationals. Tata Steel supported me and my friends and enabled us to train well.”
The next chapter in Madhumita’s training took her from the Feeder Centre to the Birsa Munda Archery Academy at Silli in Ranchi district of Jharkhand. The academy had just opened and many of the facilities were still not in place.
Recalling the struggle of the early days, Madhumita, who was part of the first batch of athletes trained at the academy, says, “We used to practice all day and then return to the hostel and cook, clean and do laundry. It was only when the archers started performing well and winning medals that a senior came over and observed first-hand the problems we were facing, and the facilities improved.”
Today, the infrastructure and other facilities have improved along with the exercise routines and training schedules to help archers perform to their fullest potential. This support helped Madhumita perform well at the Asian Games, where she was ranked 8th among the 12 archers who represented India.
Despite the rigour and discipline associated with the sport, Madhumita, who is currently ranked Asia’s No. 2 in Compound Archery, sets time aside to study. She is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in arts from Silli College in Ranchi district even as she prepares for the Asian Championship in Bangkok and the World Championship in 2019.The biggest stage in the world, the Olympics, will not, however, figure on her agenda until 2024, when compound archery is expected to be introduced at the Olympics for the first time.
All because of Tata Steel
Madhumita is grateful to her parents for supporting her throughout, even in times when she wasn’t in peak form and was losing more than she was winning. It was a valuable lesson. “Ups and downs are part of a sportsperson’s life; losses were opportunities to learn and improve,” she says.
Madhumita is also highly appreciative of the work Tata Steel is doing to hone and promote rural talent in the area.
Each Tata Steel Feeder Centre — West Bokaro, Noamundi and Jharia in Jharkhand and Sukinda and Kalinganagar in Odisha —recruits 20 cadets each for training in athletics, archery and football annually. The objective is to prepare local youth for induction into national sports academies, including the Tata Football Academy, which has produced at least 19 players who have led the national team as captains across various age groups, and the Tata Archery Academy, which has produced top archers like Deepika Kumari.
Madhumita says, “The company supported me even when I moved to another academy. Over the years, whenever we won medals at the national or international levels, they used to give us scholarships, which included a cash prize. I owe my beginnings in this sport entirely to Tata Steel’s Feeder Centre."