Archers Deepika Kumari and Bombayla Devi Laishram are part of one of the most promising contingents from India at the Rio Olympics. The two, who just progressed to the pre-quarterfinals of the women's individual archery competition, have taken remarkably different routes to Brazil.The senior of the two, Laishram is known for her consistency.
Her introduction to archery was through her mother, an archer who had represented India, and her father, the state coach of the handball team. The Manipuri archer started playing in 1996, and made it to the Indian team a decade later, winning a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This is the third time that the 31-year-old is representing India at the Olympics.
In contrast, Kumari was born to a poor family without any sporting connections. Her father was an auto rickshaw driver and her mother worked as a nurse at the Ranchi Medical College. Initially facing opposition from her parents for pursuing archery, she would practise by shooting mangoes using a traditional bow and arrow made of bamboo.
Her talent was noticed by Meera Munda, the wife of the former Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda, who admitted Kumari to her archery academy. She went on to attend the Tata Archery Academy, training with professional archery equipment for the first time.
The 22-year-old's success has led her to be described as India's archery prodigy. Her accolades include two gold medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and the world number 1 title in women's recurve archery in 2012. Earlier this year, she equalled a world record at the women's recurve event at the Archery World Cup. This is Kumari's second Olympics outing. She competed at the London Olympics in 2013 when she was just 18, but was ousted in the first round of the individual curve event.
When Devi and Kumari take centre stage at the quarter-finals today, they will be hoping to get India's first Olympic medal. "My only target is to win a medal for India at Rio. I train for six hours daily. Things did not work out for me the last time", Kumari said in a recent interview to The Times of India. "I won't say that the medal is mine, but I will give my 200%."