It was the best week and the most memorable tournament of her career for Indian compound archer Jyothi Surekha Vennam.
After clinching a gold medal in the mixed team event along with Ojas Pravin Deotale at the Archery World Cup Stage 1 in Antalya, Jyothi went to achieve her long-time dream of winning the individual gold. She got off to a brilliant start, with a world record equalling score of 713 in the qualification round of the individual event. Later, she went on to beat world number one Ella Gibson of Great Britain in the semifinal and Sara Lopez, an all-time legend and winner of 24 World Cup gold medals, in the final.
How did she do it? The talent was always there. This time, there was a bit of belief mixed with luck.
"I know my scores were good and I have been very consistent. But this time luck was also on my side. I have been in the finals, like last year's Paris World Cup where I lost the gold in the shootoff," Jyothi told ESPN.
"I was only focusing on shooting better with every shot. Even if you have done good in the qualification, you never know whether you'll end up with a medal. I have seen so many lower-ranked players from the qualification winning a medal later. So, you have to maintain your scores and I believe you need a bit of luck also." she added.
To be clear, she doesn't give all the credit to luck alone. But compound archery is an extremely close event where a perfect 10 is not enough. You need to hit the arrow as close to the centre as possible so it's a matter of millimetres. Judging the wind speed becomes pivotal.
Conditions in Antalya did get a bit rough after the qualification round, but Jyothi was able to find consistency in the crucial elimination matches.
"Not all days were the same. Qualification was good, the weather was good on the final day, not much trouble with the wind. But the elimination matches were tricky, it was a bit tough to judge the conditions and to find my rhythm, but eventually I did and won the matches," she said.
To achieve consistency in scores, Jyothi did something slightly unconventional, which was to keep her focus away from the scores. It was not about getting the right score, it was about shooting the way she wanted to. It was about getting the basic and technical aspects right.
"Sometimes, consciously, or unconsciously, things affect you. This time I tried to avoid that. When you shoot, when you start focusing on the scores again and again, there's a chance that you might end up making some mistakes. This time, I consciously tried not to focus just on scores. My main focus was on getting the shooting right."
By not concentrating on the scores, Jyothi shot a 149 in the final. In the semifinal, she shot a 148. She scored 147 in the quarterfinal. As she went deeper in the competition, her scores improved.
The season couldn't have begun on a better note for Jyothi. But only last year, she failed to get into the team after one bad day at the trials.
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- SAI Media (@Media_SAI) April 22, 2023
"I was not selected in the team for the first two World Cups. It wasn't that I wasn't shooting well, but one afternoon (during the trials), there was a lot of wind (disturbance), and I couldn't cope. It was a setback. I was doing good, I was winning international medals but suddenly, I felt like my whole world had turned upside down," she said.
It didn't take long for her to get back into the team. Selected for the Paris World Cup, Jyothi put her best performance up until then with a gold in compound mixed team event and a silver in the individual event.
"I got a chance to prove myself again in the trials. I was back in the team and played at the Paris World Cup. After the whole phase, maybe my attitude became more positive, you know, taking things positively."
It's a crucial season for Jyothi. There are three more stages of World Cups and a final in September. More importantly, she would like to make an impact at the Asian Games. Another long-time dream for her is to win an individual gold at the Asiad. Technically, she's on the right track. Where she needs to improve more, according to her, is on the mental side.
"Technically, I think there are not many improvements needed. Maybe we can work better on the mental side. Like how to take things positively. One small negative thought could affect you badly. We have psychologists travelling with us, so they also help us."
Despite her tremendous success at Antalya, Jyothi has no time to celebrate. The Archery World Cup Stage 2 will start in Shanghai from May 16. She'll be back to SAI Sonipat for more training in hope for more medals at the international stage. Watch out for her.