Abhishek Verma has won an international medal every year in a sport since 2012. Which sport does he play?
If you know the answer, you're among the few who do - and that's the tragedy of archery in India.
With six World Cup medals, including two golds, in both individual and team events since 2014, Abhishek (27) has made his mark on the international circuit. In the two World Cup stages held so far this year, Abhishek has already won two medals - a gold in the men's team event in Shanghai and a bronze in the mixed team event in Antalya.
Two years ago he became the first Indian man to win an individual silver medal in the World Cup Final - considered the biggest event in archery. However, the win that remains closest to his heart is an individual gold he won the same year at the World Cup stage three in Wroclaw, Poland. "That was the best day of my life. It was Independence Day (August 15), I clearly remember. When I won, and the national anthem played in the background, I felt all my hard work had been worth it. It was a magical feeling. Even the Prime Minister tweeted about it," he says.
However, despite all his achievements, he's almost an unknown at home, as is his sport. "Whenever I win a medal, the attention that is given to me or my teammates is limited to 2-3 days. After that, everyone disappears. My sport is not that popular, I agree, but people need to realise that a medal is a medal, a World Cup win is a World Cup win, irrespective of what sport it may be in," he says. "Our country is obsessed with the Olympics. They need to realise how big a World Cup or World Championship win can be. It's unfair to a certain extent."
Abhishek represents India in the Compound event for the national team - an event that is not included in the Olympics, a reason, Abhishek feels, because of which the acknowledgement of his wins has been limited. His teammates - Deepika Kumari, Atanu Das and Bombayla Devi - relatively better-known archers in the country, compete in the Recurve event, which is a part of the Olympics.
In compound archery, the target is set 50m away, as opposed to recurve where the target is set 70m away. The target is 80 cm in diameter in compound, with 10 rings having a diameter of 8 cm each. In international competitions, compound targets only include the yellow, red and blue rings. Archers get a score of 10 for the innermost yellow ring and 1 for the outermost ring.
"We have won medals in every possible event other than the Olympics," he says. "The Compound team has been very consistent. It's not even our fault that our event is not a part of it. We are giving our best too. The day both events are given equal priority, we can do better for the sport as a whole, collectively."
Born and brought up in Delhi, in a family of goldsmiths, Abhishek found his calling in archery way back in 2003. "I saw a couple of my seniors play the sport back in school, and I was immediately intrigued. I wanted to learn more about it." A year later, the then 14-year-old Abhishek set a national sub-junior record in his event - a record yet to be broken. "That's when I knew I needed to pursue the sport for the rest of my life," he says.
Ever since, Abhishek, a part of the Income Tax department, dedicated his life to the needs of his sport. Luckily in his case, his family supported him throughout. "Whatever I've done is all through and for the sport. Not everything about financial gains, right? Satisfaction too is important, and thankfully my family understands and fully supports that."
Ask him what he does in his free time, and he laughs. "I love travelling. I am a complete masti-khor (fun-loving) and whenever I find some time, I drag my family out for a quick trip. Be it a chaar-dhaam yatra (a visit to four pilgrimages in the Indian Himalayas as per the Hindu culture) for my mother or a Euro trip with my wife, I have done it all in my free time."
He gives a lot of credit to his coach, Mr. Lokesh Pal Chand, for whatever he has become today. "He has trained me since I was 14. I have learnt everything from him, and he too has never left my side. Having a good coach, along with discipline and practice, helps in making an athlete consistent."
However, the consistency too has come after several internal struggles. "Compound didn't have too many takers in the international scene even about four years ago. We used to have just one or two events in a year back then. But with the regularity of medals and the consistency in our performances, we've reached a stage where we have a lot more to do. We are fighting everyday to give a good future to our successors."
So how will they ensure that better future? "We have an unsaid agreement among ourselves that we will fight, and win as many medals as possible for the country. Itne medals laayenge ki country toh kya Olympics tak notice karenge (We will bring so many medals that not just the country, even the Olympics will notice us," he says.