After dedicating 24 years of his life to archery, India's Tarundeep Rai is eyeing his first Olympics medal in Tokyo.
The Namchi-archer is amongst the four Indians to have booked their berth for Tokyo Olympics in the recurve individual event. Atanu Das, Pravin Jadhav and Deepika Kumari are the other archers who have also made the cut. Rai will also team up with Das and Jadhav to compete in the team event in Tokyo.
Rai has high hopes from the Indian archery contingent which has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics as he believes that they're capable of returning home with a medal. The Arjuna awardee, who was also the first Indian to win an individual men's silver medal in archery, which he achieved at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou.
He feels his 24-year-old professional journey will be complete with an Olympics medal. Rai is a two-time Olympian. He finished 43rd at the 2004 Summer Olympics in the men's individual archery event. He was also a part of the Indian men's archery team which finished on the 11th spot.
Later in the London 2012 Olympics, Rai was placed at the 31st spot in the men's individual archery ranking while his team finished 12th in the recurve event.
He is 37 and sacrificed a lot for his love for archery. But a medal at the Olympics is the only way he feels that he will be able to meet his son's gaze.
"After these 24 years, I need to win an Olympic medal. At the same time, the country deserves it. This 24-year journey will only be complete when I win a medal at the Tokyo Games next year. I’ve sacrificed a lot personally just to play this sport for the country." Tarundeep Rai for Firstpost.
"My son turned nine years old this month. But I have been with him for his birthday just twice in nine years. Maybe I have not been able to be a better father than I am, or a better husband… I don’t blame archery for it. But this is the amount of love I have for the sport and this is why I need to win a medal at Tokyo. Tabhi shayad main apne bete se aankh mila paun (Maybe then I will be able to meet my son’s gaze)," he added.
The veteran also revealed that he is leaving nothing to chance as he gears up for the Tokyo Olympics. He is focusing on mental and physical fitness to ensure he is top shape for next year. Rai, who was 81kg in March, revealed that he shed 14 kgs to remove fat and is now focusing on building muscle strength.
“I think of 2020 as an opportunity. An opportunity to transform myself. An opportunity to shed any extra flab. I was 81kg before the lockdown started. After six months of lockdown, my weight was down to 67kg as I burned fat with my workouts. I could have shed even more weight. But I needed to build muscles and gain back weight to get it to 75kg. I’m at 73kg right now. We have to consider things like the poundage of our bow, which is why we need to maintain our body weight,” he added.
When India went into a lockdown due to the coronavirus situation in March and most archers decided to return home - Rai and Jadhav were the only two left behind at Pune's Army Sport Institute (ASI).
Rai explained the importance of regular training especially in a sport like archery which relies heavily on muscle memory which needs to be sharpened day in and day out. He was thankful that despite the nationwide lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 pandemic, he could still access the facilities at the ASI in Pune.
“Archery is also a sport of muscle memory. If you don’t train for a week, your body starts forgetting small things that help you shoot a bulls-eye. Just to keep our muscle memory sharp, archers shoot as many as 500 or 600 arrows a day, even though you will need to shoot a maximum of 72 arrows in a tournament. This is why I was lucky to have access to ASI’s archery range during the lockdown,” he mentioned.