Sports

India’s married archers: ‘We are a powerful couple.’

TOKYO — When love’s arrow struck, Deepika Kumari and Atanu Das were ready with their own quivers. Known as Dee-Das in India, the couple are one of two pairs of married archers at the Tokyo Olympics.

Both halves of the couple advanced into the individual archery event, with Das falling in the 1/8 elimination round on Saturday to Takaharu Furukawa of Japan, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist.

Waving the Indian flag in the stands, under a broiling sun, was Kumari, the world No. 1, who had reached the quarterfinals the day before. She was beaten by An San of South Korea, who went on to take the gold medal.

“We are a powerful couple,” Das said after his elimination on Saturday. “We lost in this Olympics here, but from now we will play the game differently. We have learned so many things in the past few years, and we know how to deal with the pressure.”

India’s Olympic imprint is small, especially given its large population. Apart from men’s hockey, the country has won only one other gold medal, in the men’s 10-meter air rifle event in the 2008 Beijing Games. In Tokyo, India’s archers were considered among the country’s medal hopefuls but failed to make it to the podium rounds. So far, India has won a silver medal in women’s weight lifting and is assured a medal in women’s boxing.

Archery is a supremely mental sport. Going into the competition on Saturday, Das inked the word “calm” on his hand as a reminder to not let the pressure erode his confidence. The divergence between a win and a loss in archery is measured in millimeters.

“They help each other with the nerves,” said Mim Bahadur Gurung, the Indian archery coach, referring to the support the couple give each other. “It is easy to be nervous in archery.”

In the earlier rounds in Tokyo, contested on an artificial island built from waste landfill, Das had dispensed with the 2012 Olympic gold medalist Oh Jin-hyek, who is part of South Korea’s strong archery squad. Unusually, none of the Koreans were in medal contention in the men’s individual event, although the team won gold on Monday.

The other married archers who competed in Tokyo are Florian Unruh and Lisa Unruh of Germany. A silver medalist in the women’s individual event at the 2016 Rio Games, she was part of the German women’s team that won bronze in Tokyo on Sunday. He made it to the quarterfinals on Saturday, after having upset another Korean Olympic gold medalist.

With Covid-19 raging in India and the government keen to raise its Olympic profile, the archery team was dispatched to an army sports institute in the city of Pune to train for eight months. Being away from family for so long was difficult, but Kumari and Das had each other.

In June, they won gold in the mixed team event at an archery World Cup competition. But Das’s shooting was considered erratic in the run-up to the Games, and they were not paired for competition in Tokyo. Kumari and her mixed team partner, Pravin Jadhav, made it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Korean rivals.

Das and Kumari had originally planned to get married around the time of the Tokyo Olympics. But the Games were delayed, and they decided to marry last year. On one ring finger, Das wears his wedding band. On the other, he has a golden band with the Olympic rings.

“Now it’s over,” he said, “but we’ll be back in three years.”

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