Bombayla Devi chasing the elusive Olympic dream
Among the 61 athletes who were bestowed with the Padma Shri Award (the fourth-highest civilian award in India) in 2019, few have been as dominant in their field as one of India’s finest archers, Bombayla Devi.
A veteran of three Olympic Games and a winner of 13 Archery World Cup medals, Indian archer Devi has been a serial winner since her maiden appearance for India just over 12 years prior.
The 34-year-old has reached considerable heights in her illustrious career, however, is still chasing the one peak that has eluded her so far - climbing onto an Olympic podium to receive a medal.
Archery runs in Bombayla’s bloodline. Her mother, M Jamini Devi was a local archery coach and watching her mother in action is what sparked the youngster’s interest in the sport. Being the coach’s daughter had its perks but also some pitfalls.
She had the exposure she needed to hone her skills, but her schedule of training at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in the morning and the evening, split by her hours at school proved to be too tiresome for an 11-year-old Bombayla and it almost prompted her to quit the sport altogether.
However, her mother ensured that she never skipped practice and maintained her focus on archery and in time, the sport took precedence over education for the Manipuri. She then joined the Sports Authority of India in Imphal where she continued to work on her skills and make a name for herself in the family business.
In 2006, Bombayla was drafted into the Indian side that competed at the firsst South Asian Archery Championship in Bangladesh. That was her first taste of the international stage in the sport.
With newfound confidence and belief garnered from that experience, the Indian elevated her game and went on to have a breakthrough year in 2007. She won her first individual women’s recurve gold medal at the Asian Archery Grand Prix in Iran, before winning her first medal at the Archery World Cup in Dover — a bronze in the women’s team recurve event alongside compatriots Dola Banerjee and Chekrovolu Swuro.
At the Antalya leg of the 2009 Archery World Cup, she won another bronze and later in the year, rose to 14th in the world rankings, announcing herself on the global stage in archery.
Bombayla, Banerjee and Deepika Kumari entered the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi as one of the home favourites to capture a medal for the nation. The trio felt the pressure. They came through 213-185 nervy semi-final against Malaysia to book a berth in the final, against one of the other favourites, England.
The final was a nerve-wracking thriller. Both team refused to budge an inch and stayed within touching distance of each other. India finally seized the advantage to win 207-206 and capture the gold medal by the narrowest margin, a victory Bombayla later called ‘her greatest challenge’.
In the subsequent five years, the Indian teams featuring Bombayla dominated at the Archery World Cups. They amassed a total of 11 medals, which included four golds the first of which came in Shanghai in 2011, the second in 2013 in Wroclaw and final two coming in Medellin and Wroclaw again, in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
For her victories and her achievements, Devi was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2012, before being bestowed with the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in 2019.
The Olympic Ambition
Despite her enormous success in the past, Bombayla is yet to add an Olympic medal to her collection. She made her debut at the Olympics in Beijing 2008, where the Indian team was beaten in the quarterfinals by China. She lost 101-103 in the individual event to Iwona Marcinkiewicz in the round of 64 and returned empty-handed from her debut Olympic appearance.
In the London Olympics of 2012, she was ousted in the second round of the women’s recurve event by Aida Roman and was part of the Indian team that suffered a shock first-round exit at the hands of the Danish team.
She fared significantly better in the women’s individual recurve event at Rio 2016, winning her first and second-round matches before bowing out in the round of 16 against Alejandra Valencia. The women’s recurve team also advanced to the quarterfinals were beaten by Russia, ending their stay at the Olympic Games.
While it has eluded her so far, Bombayla still dreams of winning an Olympic medal before she calls it a day. The 34-year-old Manipuri has had an incredible career and has a wealth of experience to draw from and she hopes that she can finally achieve her Olympic dream at Tokyo 2020.