Power of concentration key to Vennam’s consistency – and results

Jyothi Surekha Vennam waits to shoot during the 2021 Asian Championships.

“It has been a long day and quite a few hours since I won the medal, but yes, it’s sunk in,” said Indian archer Jyothi Surekha Vennam over the phone after claiming her second compound women’s continental title last week.

That long day, last Thursday 28 November, in the Bangladesh Army Stadium at the Asian Championships ended with a 146-point match.

It was enough to see the 25-year-old beat Oh Yoohyun in the final – albeit after something of a protest from the Korean squad – and claim a gold medal at her fourth consecutive continental championships, having won the individual title in 2015, followed by the women’s team in 2017 and mixed team in 2019.

Vennam seeded fourth early last week in Dhaka, shooting 701 during qualifying, and received a bye into the last-16.

She started her matchplay campaign with a 146 against Phuong Thao Le from Vietnam then swiftly followed that with a two-point win over Indian teammate Parneet Kaur in the quarterfinals, 148-146, both matches taking place on Monday. Three days later in the arena, former world champion Kim Yunhee was then dispatched in the semifinals, 148-143, less than 30 minutes before a shot at gold.

Her title in Dhaka on Thursday came about after a six-minute wait following the very last arrow of the final, with a magnifying glass used to downgrade Oh’s almost-on-the-line 10 to a nine, handing Vennam victory in a match that had looked like it would go to a shoot-off.

Vennam had started the final well, shooting a 30 to open, including a dead-centre third arrow.

The second series highlighted an uncomfortable process and she dropped two points, despite numerous cheers from supporters in the stands, and allowed her opponent to draw level. Tied at 58 points apiece, it looked like Yoohyun might continue the Korean clean sweep – but Vennam found her level, again, and another perfect 30 to draw two ahead.

That advantage remained at the start of the fifth, Vennam flashing her first smile of the encounter after another perfect volley in the fourth, but any confidence proved premature as things started to slip in the closing shots.

Her second arrow in the last end went wide left for a nine, letting Oh back in – and the Korean duly shot a 10.

At 146-137 down, Jyothi was well aware that only a 10 would seal the title. She could only manage a nine and a tiebreak was on the cards. Both archers knew it.

But the drama was just starting.

After a lengthy look at the target, the judge eventually ruled Oh’s second arrow of the fifth end – the penultimate of the match – as a nine, not a 10, and the match over. The relief was clear for the Indian.

“I’m super happy,” she said immediately afterwards. “I was waiting for the judge’s call – whatever the judge decides will be final – maybe it will be a tie or it will be a win.”

The Korean team contested the decision – but there was nothing to appeal. The judge’s decision, as Jyothi rightly said, was final.

“My timing was out and I was a bit late with both my last shots,” said Vennam, who had the lead and opportunity to put the contest completely out of reach but finished with two nines. “It would have been great if I had executed them in time and just hit it then.”

In the end, those two last arrows didn’t matter. Jyothi ends her impressive season with gold, finally, following three silver medals in Yankton in September at the Hyundai World Archery Championships.

The title in Dhaka, she said, will only boost the self-belief in her own game going forward.

“Becoming a champion after the world championships was really important because you need to show that you’re consistent in your shooting and in your performance,” she said.

“It has been great. You gain confidence when you win tournaments or medals continuously, one after the other, when you maintain your scores and when you do that thing which you have been working hard on.”

This big result for the Vijayawada-born arrow-slinger, who started her athletic career in the water and won numerous competitions at home and internationally as a swimmer, reminds her of that switch, a decision that would change her life.

“I initially started archery because of my parents,” she explained. “It was their choice to shift me into archery from swimming mainly because it was an individual game and also because concentration is much needed [in the sport]. My parents thought I must have good ‘concentration power’ or something – maybe it was because of that?”

Jyothi’s achievements in 2021 should not be understated.

As well as the raft of medals, she also became the first-ever compound woman to shoot a televised perfect match during the worlds.

She’s one of a number of Indian archers making waves on the global scene and inspiring a new generation of archers in one of the most populous nations on earth.

“It feels great,” said Vennam about the opportunity to impact young people thanks to her ongoing success. “You know, when someone says that they look up to you in whatever you have achieved or whatever the thing is that you’re doing, it makes me feel very happy.”

“But, also as you’re seeing nowadays, women and girls are doing extremely well in sports as well in India. I’m looking forward to many young girls taking up archery – but not only archery, any sport – and also doing well for themselves and for the country in their particular sport.”

Anyone watching the medal ceremony in Dhaka on Thursday afternoon will have seen Vennam hardly open her eyes for the rendition of the Indian national anthem. What was she thinking about behind those closed eyelids?

“I was blank and just wanted to enjoy the moment,” she explained. “Actually, I should be grateful to all the people or those who have helped me so that I can be here today and win medals for the country but at that moment, I was really blank and just wanted to hear the anthem being played.”

Speaking via mobile chat later on in the day, Vennam took time to reflect on her success – as well as look forward to an exciting 2022.

“I have been receiving congratulatory messages from everyone, they are all very happy,” she said. Her phone had been on overdrive for a few hours. “But you know, I have made it to the goal [I had] and I have won a gold for the country – the second time I have won a gold medal in the individual category in the Asian championships.”

And the only gold medal at this event not to be headed home with archery’s leading nation.

“The Koreans are doing a very great job,” she admitted. “Giving a very tough fight to everyone, not only in Asia but also in the world. Competing against them and winning gold has been great.”

“I’m really looking forward to next year because we have very good tournaments coming up, we have World Cups, as [we do] every year, but we also have the World Games and the Asian Games which is a very big tournament for us as Asian countries.”