Indian Air Force Aims For Archery Excellence
The medals haul at 2012-London Olympics has been India’s best ever. The tally could have been much higher had Indian archers, who were among those tipped at the start of the event as potential medal winners, found their mark.
Aiming to make a mark in this discipline, the Indian Air Force has already begun the hunt for young and potential archers who would be trained at its newly-established ‘centre of excellence’ and nodal centre for archery, at an open air range in Upper Shillong of Meghalaya.
Although Indian Army too has an archery range in Shillong’s Happy Valley, this centre of IAF is earning good name among the circle. Named after the fabled archer of the Mahabharata epic—Eklavya—the Indian Air Force nodal centre built in the precincts of HQ Eastern Air Command, Shillong, has an open range built to international specifications. It is also equipped with the latest sophisticated archery equipment.
Indian Air Force archers, Flt Lt Ghanshyam Singh and two others have been currently training at the centre for over a year. In addition, young boys and girls from Meghalaya are participating at the centre, who are traditional archers with hand-strung bows, which is hugely popular in the state. Also Shillong is perhaps one of the only place in the country where archery is a major sport, both for locals and tourists alike.
Flt Lt Ghanshyam Singh is an Indian Air Force fighter controller as good as any at his age and experience. But when off controlling duties, he is a man possessed, aiming to knock off the ‘spider’ at the centre of the target 50 or 70 metres away. Whistling winds or lashing rains at an altitude of 6000 feet do not distract him as he shoots arrows incessantly at the target.
Sporting an archery Sling, Flt Lt Ghanshyam Singh is the oft-seen archer at the Indian Air Force’s new archery range—Eklavya. Archery which was introduced as a sporting discipline in the IAF only recently and Ghanshyam Singh, a national-level archer who qualified for the Asian Grand Prix in 2011, spearheads Indian Air Force’s quest for excellence in the discipline.
Inspired by Col Rajyavardhan Rathore’s Olympic glory Ghanshyam ‘accidentally’ took to archery. A sprained ankle sustained at the start of an open state-level ‘village games’ in Rajasthan left him no choice but to take a shot at archery. The games were being held to scout young talents from rural villages and train them for national-level games.
Providence or innate talent, difficult to say, but remarkably his arrows found the near-centre mark in all his three attempts and earned him a silver medal at the meet. There was no stopping thereafter as he took to the sport with gusto, winning many laurels including a bronze medal at the All India Inter-University Games in Hyderabad, in 2004.
Having decided to join the Indian Air Force, Ghanshyam’s military training forced a hiatus from active archery for next two years. After commissioning in December 2006, his unfazed zeal would resurface at his first place of posting, Srinagar, where egged on by a friend he trained innovatively, hours on, late in the nights.
“There were two garages facing each other exactly at a distance of 70 metres with empty space in between. With an LED (light emitting diode) fixed in the centre of the target at one end, I would shoot my arrows from the lit garage on the other end. It was an unbelievable experience as it would be snowing many a time when my arrows would fly in the dark through the open space between the two garages,” recalls the gritty archer.
A six-month stint at ‘Mission Olympics Wing’ at Indian Army’s Sports Institute, Pune, with several Olympians and a Korean coach, Che Hong, helped Ghanshyam gain confidence and experience. “I owe a great deal to the Korean coach who was quite a monk like and had answers to all our queries. I was also well supported by the AFSCB (Air Force Sports Control Board),” he says. To be successful, there is no alternative to practice which requires lot of time and that, he rues, is at premium.
When asked to choose between Eklavya and Arjuna, fabled archers in the Indian epic Mahabharata, Ghanshyam Singh states that while he is inspired by the steadfast dedication of Eklavya, he wants to be only an Arjuna who achieved far greater glory—perhaps, just the right philosophy to imbibe for excellence in the fiercely competitive times.
Hoping to form a team of eight archers, the Indian Air Force recently held trials in Delhi for selecting potential archers. Of the 15 tested, only one archer from Jharkhand qualified the stringent tests. The archers tested had all participated at some national-level competition but had to prove their mettle on the day of the test.
“We may consider our future selection trials in the eastern region and the tribal areas,” says Air Force Sports Control Board (AFSCB) Secretary, Wing Cdr VN Singh. “We may be able to get more talented archers from these areas,” he adds.
Archery is among the latest additions to the existing list of 28 sports participated by Indian Air Force.
By Joydeep Dasgupta from Shillong