London: Touted as serious medal contenders, a bunch of shy and unassuming archers will seek to give India's Olympic campaign the perfect start when the event gets underway here on Friday at the hallowed turf of the Lord's, the spiritual home of cricket.
If the archers needed a spark of inspiration, they simply have to turn to the historic venue which has witnessed cricketing heroics for many a generation. Now the Indians will be keen to make an impact with bow and arrows.
Going by current form and rankings, the Indians would fancy their chances of clinching a few medals, including the coveted gold medal.
Unlike most other disciplines which begin only after the Opening Ceremony, archery starts on Friday with the ranking rounds for the draw. Women's football has already got off the blocks on Thursday.
This is only the second time since the 2004 Athens Games that Indian archers have been able to earn the maximum of six quota places for the Olympics and the team will look for podium finishes in at least two of the four events in London.
World number one Deepika Kumari, the 18-year-old from Ranchi, will spearhead the Indian campaign in the Olympics and it remains to be seen whether the burden of huge expectations will have a bearing on her performance.
Deepika shot to fame when she won her first international medal, becoming the cadet world champion in Ogden 2009. And from then on, she has only improved steadily. The teenager won the Commonwealth gold medal in Delhi 2010 and followed it up with the junior world title in 2011.
Recently, she showed her top form when she won the World Cup Stage II gold in Antalya beating South Korea's Lee Sung Jin. Deepika's rise to the No 1 in world rankings -- only the second from India after Dola Banerjee -- also could not have come at a better time as she now chases Olympic glory at individual and team events.
"She is definitely our best bet in the women's section for a medal in the individual event. Her progress graph is impressive. In past two years, she has beaten some of the big names including the world champion Koreans," national coach Limba Ram had said before the team's departure to London.
The women's recurve team comprising Deepika, Bombayla Devi and Chekrovolu Swuro secured the Olympic quota berths at the World Championships in Turin last year. The trio booked the quota places, upsetting defending champions Korea to make their maiden entry into the World Championship final, but only to lose to the Italians in the gold medal clash.
In the same championship, Jayanta Talukdar booked his Olympic berth in the individual recurve event amid a flop show by his teammates Tarundeep Rai and Rahul Banerjee. The men's team finally clinched the Games berth when the trio shot well under pressure and beat Australia in the semifinals in the final Olympic qualifications held alongside the World Cup Stage III in Ogden last month.
The qualification meant that Asian Games silver-medallist Rai would compete in his second Olympics. As a 20-year-old Rai participated in his first Olympics in Athens 2004 when he finished 32nd in individual and also helped the country finish 11th in the team event.
After a shoulder injury kept him out of the sport, he made a fine comeback at the Asian Games in 2010 when he clinched a historic individual silver and team bronze at Guangzhou. The third member -- Banerjee -- would have taken tips from his elder sister Dola, a veteran of two Olympics, before boarding the London-bound flight.
At the final qualification in Ogden, Banerjee defied all odds as he shot from borrowed equipment -- after he lost his bow box in transit -- for winning the berth. With the team finals scheduled on July 28 (men) and 29 (women) ahead of the individuals on August 2 (women) and 3 (men), the archers would look to open the tally for India.


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