Asian Games Archery silver: India take second place and Dhiraj takes his second chance

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a zero Seven shots later, another zero. Shortly after, the men’s individual category in recurve archery made a quarter-final exit.

A number, and feat, almost unheard of in sports. How do you come back from that?

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Four days later, 22-year-old Dhiraj Bomadevara stood atop the Asian Games podium to win the Asian Games silver. India’s best ever result in the men’s team event in recurve archery at the Asian Games.

Standing next to him was his idol Atanu Das (31), the face of Indian archery for so long, who also bagged his first Asian Games medal. Tushar Prabhakar Shelke, his first Asian appearance at the age of 28, rounds out this diverse trio.

They just lost to South Korea in the final by a 5-1 scoreline, which makes sense when you factor in the fact that the Koreans have only failed to win a men’s team medal once at the Asian Games. Still, that scoreline, just 0.0 four days ago, was deceiving.

India have pushed South Korea to perfection (an incredible six 10s to start), and Oh Jinhyeke will need to be at his experienced best to make it 10 seconds at the crucial juncture. Jinhyuk is South Korea’s clutch third shooter in their team event, the archer who must be at his best under pressure, as he almost always lands the decisive arrow in close contests.

Jinhek (41) Olympic, World, Asian Champion. India’s clutch shooter was a debutant who started the game five years ago. One who came out of the separates nightmare four days ago, thanks to two zeroes.

“It never happened to me – not even during practice. My middle finger got stuck accidentally and suddenly my mind went blank,” Dhiraj told PTI while reflecting on his exit.

Dhiraj was actually supposed to face Jinhek in the quarter finals where he shot his zero. Zinhaik had a nightmare of his own in his pre-quarterfinal exit – after multiple 10-second rain spells in the set, it came down to a shoot-off, with Zinhaik shooting nine. It can happen to the best, most experienced.

Dhiraj promised to give his best in the team event on Friday, and he did. It might not have been enough against South Korea, but Dhiraj came under pressure with 10 and 9s when it was all they needed to advance to the final. Mongolia could have eliminated India in the quarter-finals in a shoot-off had Dhiraj not hit 9.

It helped that it was a team event, where the unique camaraderie of being part of a trio comes through. It’s not you anymore, it’s your bow and arrow against the target. Someone cheering you on from behind in team events, someone to come in clutch if you fail. A team’s safety net. For Dhiraj, that safety net became his idol.

Atanu Das knows about public and painful failures. It seems almost unbelievable to reflect on his first Asian Games medal. His third-round exit at the Tokyo Olympics took him out mentally for months, and Das later struggled at the national trials – even Dhiraj topped him once. There is no one better to guide Dhiraj through the hardships of a game where you live and die behind your latest shot.

The 31-year-old’s fist-bump, encouraging pat on the back suited the two debutants alongside him and they found a consistent rhythm. Atanu finds the bullseye and 10 to start, Tushar keeps the momentum going with consecutive 9s and odd 10s, and Dhiraj finishes with the numbers he needed under pressure. That rhythm saw them overcome Mongolia in the quarter-finals and Bangladesh in the semi-finals – but it wasn’t enough for the Korean power.

The 2010 Asian Games was the last time an Indian man held a recurve archery medal in his hands. Thirteen years later, an unselected trio overcame negative experiences, low expectations and the pressure of failure to win silver.

Second place for a team that fully knows the value of second chances.

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