Archer Aditi: Ticking off targets, one arrow at a time

In one corner of her tiny room at home in Maharashtra’s Satara district, archer Aditi Swami has a dedicated ‘dream wall’. Painted in baby pink, it is called so because it has a list of Swami’s dreams — targets, if you will. In another corner of the world on Saturday, Swami realised the second of her four dreams, winning gold in the compound event at the World Championships in Berlin.

Aditi Swami after winning the Berlin World Archery Championships(Twitter)

Recently crowned the youth world champion, Swami extended her fine form and underlined her maturity in Berlin, beating a quality field to become the youngest to win the senior title, dropping just four points in three matches during the day.

Swami beat Netherlands’ Sanne de Laat in the shoot-off after the scores were tied at 148, went past compatriot Jyothi Surekha Vennam 149-145 in the semis before prevailing over Mexico’s Andrea Becerra 149-147 in the final.

“Frankly, the feeling is yet to sink in. I have been getting congratulatory calls and messages since yesterday (Saturday), but I don’t feel ecstatic like everyone else. Maybe, it will dawn on me in a day or two,” she said from Berlin.There were no real celebrations for Swami post her win either. There was an emotional phone call back home and the team went out for lunch on Sunday, but “it was okay because most of the city was shut”.

Her measured reaction is in sharp contrast to the “shock and awe” that was felt in the arena after her win. “The competitors were stunned. They knew India will be a challenge but I don’t think anyone gave us a chance to win gold,” veteran coach and current High Performance Director of the archery team, Sanjeeva Kumar Singh, said.

“Soon after the final, a number of archers swarmed Aditi and complimented her for her technical brilliance. She barely dropped any points.”

Swami is already looking ahead. “There are more frontiers to conquer. I put up that poster on my dream wall in 2021. There are still two dreams to knock off,” she said. They are the Asian Games and Asian Championships. Swamy believes her rhythm and confidence have put her on course of a maiden Asiad medal. The compound discipline is not in the Olympics, where competition is restricted to recurve.

While archery has been part of the Asian Games programme since 1978, individual and team compound events were introduced only in 2014 when Trisha Deb became the first and only Indian woman to win an individual bronze.

The individual compound disciplines were dropped from the 2018 edition in favour of mixed team events, but Hangzhou will be the first Asiad to host a full line-up of individual, team and mixed team events in compound and recurve.

“It will be a great opportunity and I am confident of coming back with a medal. When I am in rhythm, I feel I can beat anyone. I don’t focus on my opponent or the ultimate result; when I shoot, all I care for is hitting a 10, one shot at a time,” she said.

On Saturday, Swami woke up “in the zone.” “The body felt right, the mind was in the right space. I knew I will hit my rhythm soon.” She was not wrong. Netherlands’ world No.36 Sanne de Laat was a worthy challenger, taking the quarter-final to the shoot-off where Swami , ranked 30 in the world, held her nerve.

“It was at that moment that I knew it will be a good day. I shot well in the shoot-off which gave me a lot of confidence.”

Back home, coach Pravin Sawant knew it too. Flanked by 20-odd trainees in the solitary tin shed on the one-acre sugarcane field where he trains Swami and other hopeful kids, Sawant was glued to the live stream, studying his ward’s every move.

“She shot with a lot of purpose and aggression. I could tell she was in rhythm. She has always been mentally tough so I wasn’t surprised that she aced the shoot-off. I knew she could go all the way,” the 32-year-old said.

“It sounds a bit dramatic but I always tell her to shoot for the unforgettable 52 seconds that await at the end of the competition. The idea of the national anthem playing on the world stage has always driven her,” added Sawant, a Maharashtra Police constable.

En route to glory, Swami also had to deal with an opponent she had always looked up to. “She has been a great idol, and playing the semi-final against her was an honour. I just stuck to my process,” Swami said of the experienced Jyothi Surekha Vennam. A multiple Worlds medallist, Vennam recovered remarkably from the reversal and won bronze.

“Aditi is very sound technically and mentally. It is nice to have youngsters challenging you. She will go a long way if she stays focussed,” said Vennam.

Singh agreed. “Aditi has a copybook technique which shows her good grooming. In fact, most of our archers are technically sound; it is the mental strength that we lack. Our archers have perfected the ‘follow through technique’, which means to hold the body in the correct position till the arrow hits the mark. I am told only a fraction of archers in the world can do that,” the Dronacharya awardee said.

The presence of Italian coach Sergio Pagni helped, as did sessions with renowned sports psychiatrist David McDuff in March. The weather in the German capital was amenable on Saturday, setting the stage perfectly for Swami. “Unlike the couple of days preceding the final, Sunday was not windy and the temperature hovered around 18 degrees. That was a big plus,” said Swami.

From a scrawny kid who didn’t have the power to pull the bow to the teenaged world champion, Swami has come a long way. Sawant credits it to her mental strength.

“She would never give up, even as a 10-year-old. She was so thin that she could barely balance the bow. I made her run laps, convinced her to eat eggs, and gradually built her power. I once asked her to give up social media and she did it without any question. You know such kids have what it takes to be world beaters.”

Swami, along with the Indian contingent, will now move to Paris for the World Cup Stage 4 (Aug 15-20) which will be followed by a preparatory camp ahead of the Asian Games. The third of her four goals may be ticked off there.

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