While discussing Olympians who have made an appearance for India over the years, archery's Tarundeep Rai is someone who may slip beneath the radar.
Hailing from the north-eastern state of Sikkim, Tarundeep Rai has played his part in adding gloss to the region’s reputation of producing great sportspersons. The first superstar to emerge from the state was former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia, who incidentally is the archer’s cousin.
Tarundeep Rai has been on the ball as well. The archer has already represented the country at two Olympic Games - Athens 2004 and London 2012.
He only missed Beijing 2008 due to a nagging shoulder injury that kept him out of action for large parts of that year and the next but did not give up, roaring back to top form in 2010.
A beacon of consistency
Since making his debut as a 19-year-old at the Asian Archery Championships in 2003, Tarundeep Rai has frequently managed to bring home medals from international tournaments.
He won his maiden gold medal at the Asian Grand Prix Bangkok in 2004, before capturing a bronze in the men’s recurve team event at the Asian Archery Championship the following year.
That very year, Rai was a silver medallist recurve men team event at the World Archery Championship and a bronze medallist recurve men individual event at the Asian Archery Grand Prix in Jakarta.
His efforts and success over the year were recognized by the government of India and at just 21, Tarundeep Rai was felicitated with the prestigious Arjuna Award in 2005.
Bouncing back from a career-threatening injury
A lean year in 2007 was followed by more bad news the following year, one that caused him a lot of pain and made him consider teaching himself to shoot with his wrong hand.
“Those few years when I had to grapple with the shoulder injury taught me everything in life,” he had shared in an interview with the Times of India. “I even tried shooting left-handed but it did not help.”
“I was taking pain killers but in vain. The year 2008 and almost half of 2009 were forgettable,” he added.
Suffering such an injury at 24, an age where most athletes start peaking, could have derailed what promised to be a medal-laden career. However, Tarundeep Rai showed maturity to give himself ample time to recover and start pursuing his dream again.
The wait paid off as the archer bounced back in style in the second half of 2009, winning an individual recurve silver at the Asian Grand Prix at Tehran, Iran before becoming a gold medalist with the men's recurve team.
A year after that shoulder injury, Tarundeep Rai enjoyed his most fruitful calendar year, winning four medals at prestigious world events. He began 2010 with a men’s recurve team gold at the 2nd Asian Grand Prix in Bangkok and then added a silver in the same event at the Archery World Cup at Porec, Croatia.
He was again part of the Indian team that won recurve gold at the Archery World Cup in China before shooting a men’s individual recurve silver medal in archery at the Asian Games, becoming the first individual archery medallist from India in the process.
No signs of slowing down
Tarundeep Rai has featured heavily at international tournaments over the past decade and his silver medal at the 2019 World Archery Championship in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and bronze medal at the 2019 Asian Archery Championships in Bangkok in the men’s recurve event suggests that the veteran still has plenty to offer at the highest level.
The archer, who was bestowed with the Arjuna Award at the start of his career, received another honour from the government in the form of the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in 2020.
The 36-year-old has already secured a quota for India at the 2020 Olympics and will now be taking aim at bagging an Olympic medal to his big international kitty.