London 2012 beckons Ronjan Sodhi, cool and collected double trap shooter. He tells Kamesh Srinivasan why scores matter more than bronze, silver or gold
Despite all the stars in the field, Ronjan Sodhi was the only Indian shooter to win the gold in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. He joined six-time Olympian Randhir Singh and Jaspal Rana to become one of the few Indians to have won an Asian Games gold in shooting. It was some victory, as Sodhi beat the best of the Chinese in their own backyard, after trailing in qualification.
On the global stage, he won the World Cup Finals, a season-ending competition for the top 10 shooters in each event, the last two times.
“These are the same shooters who will be shooting in the Olympics in London. Only the defending champion, Walton Eller of the U.S., did not qualify but the Americans have got an Olympic quota swapped for him. Of course, it would have been great to have a strong Indian side with Chilly, but we will do our best,” says Sodhi viewing the Olympic challenge ahead.
Sodhi is a good friend of ‘Chilly’ Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore who made the breakthrough for the sport with the silver medal in the Athens Olympics in 2004. But Rathore could not be selected for the London Games. “Like in air rifle, in which we have two strong shooters in Abhinav (Bindra) and Gagan (Narang), it would have been great to have two strong shooters in double trap, too,” Sodhi observes. In fact, Sodhi had shot world records before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, leading to suggestions that he would be a better bet for the Games, but he was gracious in his observations then, that he would wait for his time.
Technically, he may not be that fastidious as air rifle ace Bindra, who won the gold in the Beijing Olympics, but in purity of thought and approach, Sodhi would be on par.
“When I won the silver medals in the Commonwealth Games, people sympathised with me,” recalls Sodhi, quite amused with the level of expectations after having missed the gold medals narrowly both in the individual and pair events.
The good thing is that Sodhi does not allow the weight of expectation to force him to lose perspective. He knows he has to be at his best — physically, mentally, technically and psychologically — at the Olympics, and has been working hard in every way.
“I do realise that it is my first Olympics. I have a few wins under my belt. So, not too much pressure. Fortunately, I have the winning experience. The field will have the same guys. If I have beaten them in the past, I can do so again,” he reasons.
As a champion, he knows how to approach the task on hand. He knows that the Olympics is super-special. He also understands, after many sessions of mental toughness, that it has to be treated as another competition. The secret, he knows, is not to target a medal, but to seek a high standard of performance.
“I am not going to the Olympics to shoot for gold, silver or bronze. My aim is to shoot a score that I have in my mind. If I achieve the score, I should be winning. It would be great. Even if I don’t win a medal despite reaching my target score, it is fine. We can only give our best, and nobody can guarantee a medal,”he says matter-of-factly. “It is like the weightlifters aiming for a certain weight,” he points out as an example. “You have to leave something for God also,” is his philosophical refrain about effort being matched with reward.
Over the years, Sodhi has been willing to tap into the knowledge of seasoned professionals, like former world champion in trap, Manavjit Singh Sandhu. In fact, he trains with Olympics-bound Manavjit in Italy, and is joined by woman trap shooter Shagun Chowdhary, who had finished fourth in the last World Championship. The trio prepares hard and shares light moments with a few others who train at the centre.
“Manavjit is always joking, making fun, playing pranks. He has been to two Olympics. He has rich experience. We talk a lot and he tells me everything, lending clarity on various points, as to what one goes through in the Olympics. I have learnt a lot from him. We have been training together and I have a lot more to learn from him,” Sodhi raves.
A positive atmosphere is the key to the best preparation. Equally, a good diet is important. Of course, Sodhi and company do not get Indian food during their long training stints in Italy, but they cook food whenever they feel like it. “Our cooking skills have improved. Manav is the head chef. He decides the menu and cooks very well. Of course, men are better cooks. There is no argument on that,” remarks Sodhi quite confidently, being thousands of kilometres away from wife Ruchika.
Sodhi does spend time everyday talking to his family, as he misses his three-year-old son Suryaveer very much. Surayaveer, when quite small, used to ask his dad for a medal whenever he left home for long stints, and, like a good father, Sodhi obliged most of the time.
Ronjan Sodhi is pacing himself nicely for the Games, with the knowledge that not only his son, but the whole nation would expect him to bring home an Olympic medal from London.