The familiar quip about Korean archers is that it's easier for them to win an Olympic medal than make the national team. They have 39 Olympic medals from the sport, 23 of them gold. Their six-member Tokyo squad this time carries four debutants. Two of them - An San and Kim Je Deok - under 40 in combined age, took apart the ninth seeded Indian mixed team pair of Deepika Kumari and Pravin Jadhav 6-2 in a low-scoring quarterfinal.
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The Koreans would go on to become Olympic champions a couple of hours later. It was the first mixed team event for India across sport, one that carried heightened hopes of an upset and a first Olympic medal in archery.
Deepika's poor string of shots let down the untested Indian partnership who were teaming up for the first time in competition. She failed to find a single 10 in 16 arrows. Olympic debutant Jadhav, the otherwise steadier partner of the two Indians on the day, would later dispatch a disappointing 6 in the fourth set to snuff out any hopes of a shoot-off.
Among the Koreans, Kim, just 17, was the more consistent partner, reeling off five 10s in the match while San, who blistered her way to 680 out of a possible 720 for an Olympic record on Friday, was muted in her booming prowess and fired a solitary 10.
Jadhav had qualified for the event after finishing ahead of Deepika's regular mixed team partner and husband Atanu Das. The Archery Association of India had the choice of giving Atanu an out of turn opportunity, overlooking Jadhav and his better scores, but they chose to persist with the numbers. The husband-wife combination had beaten one half of the Tokyo silver medalists Dutch pair of Gabriela Scholesser and Steve Wijler at the World Cup in Paris.
Deepika would call a 'good shot' on the first arrow of Jadhav's turn, only for it to land in the red for an eight. A quick gust at the Yumenoshima Park archery field, located in the bay area, may have been at the heart of the mischief. The earlier arrow fired by a surprised San too had traveled only for a seven. Horrific by Korean standards. Jadhav released his bow string and a verbal self-chide in the same breath at his next eight.
"When you've timed your shot well, you know right when the arrow leaves the bow, even before it's traveled to the target, that it's headed for a 10," two-time Olympian archer Dola Banerjee said.
"Most of the times we don't even need to look at the target after we've shot. It's just you, the arrow and the target. There's no defender blocking your shot and your 10 can't be called an 8 because it's out there, in full view. It's what archers train for, to find that sweet spot between anchor and release.
"It did look like there may have been a bit of wind today, but the conditions are equal for all. I was a little disappointed with Deepika and one can't also rule out the value of a settled pair that she and Atanu have turned into in recent times."
Presently ranked No. 1 in women's recurve, Deepika typically seeps into the collective national consciousness and social media feeds once in four years. She's been largely forgettable in the previous two Games but this time, with hundreds of man hours in training, a trove of experience and her triple gold medal show at the Paris World Cup spanking fresh in memory, hopes were dialed up.
The Indian pair's first-round win against second seeds Chinese Taipei came in thrilling fashion, recovering from a 0-2 deficit with both fletching 10s in the second set to end the four-arrow affair in a tie. It got them on the scoreboard and what followed was a spectacular roll-out of 10s in all four arrows by Jadhav-Deepika in the third, putting the Taiwanese in a pressure-cooker situation. Deepika still has her individual event where she's likely to run into San in the quarterfinals again.