Kolkata: Indian archer Pravin Jadhav had two choices to make as a young boy — join his father as a wage labourer or run on the track for a better living.
Never in his dream, he had thought of representing India in the Olympics and that too in a sport alien to him.
About 10 years down the line, the Sarade village boy from Maharashtra’s Satara district has progressed enough to be one of the medal prospects for India in archery at the Tokyo Games.
But his journey has been full of hardships. He almost joined his father as a daily wage labourer before things changed for better for the Jadhav family.
Struggling to make ends meet, his father had told him that he has to drop out after class seven and join him at the construction site, where he himself worked.
“Our condition was really bad then. My family had already told me to drop out in class 7 and join my father on the construction site,” Jadhav recalled in an interaction with PTI.
One fine day, Jadhav’s sports teacher at his Zilla Parishad School in Sarade, Vikas Bhujbal, found some promise in him and asked him to compete in athletics to earn a better living.
“Bhujbal sir told me to start running and take part in competitions. ‘At least you would get to earn a better living here and won’t have to go for daily wage so I started running 400-800 metres.”
Archery came his way by accident at the Krida Prabodhini hostel in Ahmednagar when he was selected for the sport during a drill when he threw 10 out of 10 balls in a ring from a 10-metre distance.
He has not looked back since then and his family is also no longer grappling with poverty.
He was sent to Krida Prabodhini in Amravati before being picked by the Army Sports Institute in Pune from where he had a meteoric rise, winning his first ever International medal — a team bronze — at the 2016 Asia Cup Stage 1 in Bangkok.
At the World Championships 2019 in Den Bosch, the Netherlands he along with Tarundeep Rai and Atanu Das secured the men’s team Olympic qualification for the first time since London Olympics 2012.
The men’s team went on to win a World Championships silver after a long gap of 14 years as the juniormost archer Jadhav shone bright as future Olympic prospect.
He finally cemented his Tokyo berth in style, topping the selection trials for the Olympics with his score of 2727 and won six out of seven one-on-one matches to go past the much-acclaimed Rai and Das.
“I learnt the sport from Sunil Thakre Sir at Amravati and then Praful Dange Sir continued with me before I joined the Army.
“I’m also blessed to have our association seceretary Pramod Chandurkar sir behind me. He has been a constant support and guidance. Things are much better with my family now.”
Talking about Jadhav, India chief coach Mim Bahadur Gurung said,”He has got a lot of potential. His biggest quality is that he remains calm, composed and unnerved irrespective of the situation, the biggest quality for an archer.”
“He’s gifted and is a strict disciplinarian, something that impressed us but he needs to be consistent,” former Army and India coach Ravi Shankar, who worked with Jadhav during his formative years at ASI, Pune, said.
As he prepares for the big day at Tokyo, Jadhav feels he’s fully prepared to deal with the Olympic pressure even as it would be his maiden appearance.
“There will be pressure on everyone. For me, I will concentrate only on shooting well and contribute to the team,” he concluded.