Karma: “Win or lose, I want to compete with champions”

Karma is her only name.

Traditionally, in Bhutan, people go by one name only, although some Bhutanese people adopt Western practices and go by two names. The system for registering athletes in Rio couldn’t cope with a single name, so her ‘official’ name at the Rio Olympics was ‘Karma Karma’. 

Famously, Bhutan is the only country in the world where archery is the national sport.

Every village has an archery range, and archers usually use compound bows (for the last couple of decades, since they were introduced) at a distance of 145 metres – but it’s just for the Bhutanese men.

“I didn’t try Bhutanese archery, because its only played by boys,” said Karma. She didn’t actually pick up a bow until she was 18.

“When I was in school I was very interested in sports, I used to do all of them – if I hadn’t become an archer, I would be a competition runner.”  

“In school, I didn’t qualify for a college, but my sister told me that there was a vacancy in the Olympic archery programme, so I went for an interview and got selected.”

“I started archery in April 2009. The day I started archery, I always wanted to make it to the Olympics.”

Despite only having one Olympic-sized field and just nine archers on the national team, Karma still had to beat them all to ensure her place at international events:

“To get here [to Rio], I attended all of the qualification tournaments: the world championships in Denmark, the 19th Asian Archery Championships and the World Cup in Antalya – and to be eligible to participate in these competitions, I had to top the national ranking competitions just before these events.”

As well as shooting six days a week for up to 12 hours a day, the Bhutan national team employs other techniques.

“We do yoga, exercises, jogging morning and evening. We do a lot of breathing techniques to control our breath and nerves, and we also do meditation,” said Karma.

One of just two athletes from the country in Rio, the other being shooter Lenchu Kunzang, Karma or her teammate had to carry Bhutan’s flag at the Opening Ceremony. The honour went to Karma because of the two medals she won at the South Asian Games in February 2016. 

She follows in the footsteps of Bhutanese Olympic archers such as Tshering Choden, who defeated a top Chinese seed at the Athens Games in 2004.

Karma’s archery hero is Ki Bo Bae.

“I saw her in magazines and on YouTube. I love the way she shoots, her style. I use to watch her videos, to try and learn from her, copy her, to shoot like her,” she said.

“If I got the chance I would love to shoot with her. She may be the best, but I will give her a good fight.”

Karma qualified 60th of 64 women archers in the Olympic ranking round, which meant she ended up facing fifth seed Tuiana Dashidorzhieva, team world champion and the best-qualified Russian, in her first match.

On elimination day she shot strongly against Tuiana, taking the Russian to five sets and splitting three of them, but ended up losing 7-3. 

“I really enjoyed it even though I lost my match. I remember being a bit nervous with the big cameras in the blinds. But I felt excited that it was the first time in my life that this would happen,“ she said.

Karma competed in front of Bhutanese royalty; the Crown Prince of Bhutan came to watch her perform. 

“Every athlete’s dream is to come to the Olympics and to become an Olympian in their life. Whether I win or lose, I want to compete with champions.”

The archery competition Rio 2016 Olympic Games ran 5-12 August in the Sambodromo.