Ronjan Sodhi asserted his class yet again, as he clinched the elusive gold in shooting in the Asian Games, with an overwhelming performance in the double trap final, at the Guangzhou Shotgun Centre, on Sunday.
In a season in which he has been in brilliant form on the big stages, the World Cup and the World Cup Finals, shooting the big scores and winning gold against the best in the business, as if a matter of right, the 31-year-old Sodhi was easily one of the favourites in the event, though the Chinese were strong at home.
Ranked No.3 in the world, the best in the field that had five top-10 shooters that included the three Chinese, Sodhi had the handicap of being four points behind the leader, Pan Qiang of China, going into the final, with a total of 139 following a series of 47, 44 and 48. Yet, he silenced everyone with a spectacular performance, shooting 47 out of 50, to win by a four-point margin over Shaikh Almaktoum of UAE.
The Chinese were not up to the task. The pressure got to them. The qualification leader, Pan Qiang (143) shot a miserable 38 in the final and subsequently lost the tie-shoot for the bronze against Hamad Ali Al Marri of Qatar and Fehaid Aldeehani of Kuwait, shooting under the IOC banner. The other Chinese Mo Junjie was sixth with a total of 180.
The best of the Chinese, world record-holder Hu Binyuan, the bronze medallist behind Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in the Athens Olympics, failed to make the final.
“I am feeling great. It is nice to finish a good year on such a strong note,” said Sodhi who joined Randhir Singh and Jaspal Rana among the individual Indian gold medallists in shooting in the history of Asian Games.
He had shot 136 in finishing eighth in the last Asian Games in Doha.
Summing up his preparation as the best and that he had worked very hard, staying away from the family, Sodhi said that he had flown to Italy immediately after finishing the Commonwealth Games with two silver medals, and returned home just two days before catching the flight to Guangzhou. He had avoided all the distraction and the celebrations, just to stay focused.
He said that he had concentrated particularly on shooting the finals in which flash targets were used and had to be approached in a totally different way with different ammunition, etc.
Quite proud about the way he had been handling the finals through the season, as it was direct competition with the others, Sodhi pointed out that it was a bigger achievement for him to bounce back from a deficit in the World Cup Final to shoot the gold, ahead of the two Chinese. He had shot 192 then, including 49 in the final, at Izmir, Turkey.
“For the country, Asian Games may be the ultimate, but it was bigger for me to win the World Cup Final,” said Sodhi, who had shot a perfect 50 in the final to win the World Cup in Lonato this season, with a total of 195, a point short of the current world record.
However, he recalled his observation after the World Cup Final that he would be happier beating the Chinese in China.
“I am so happy to have been able to give so much happiness to the whole country. Asian Games gold does mean a lot,” said Sodhi.
Having shot a double world record of 147 and 194 in the World Cup in Belgrade in 2008, and the world record score again in qualification, even as an MQS shooter earlier in the season in a World Cup, when a weird selection policy had kept him away from the main team, Sodhi said that he was proud of his ability to shoot the high scores.
“It is not a surprise for me to win the gold here,” he said. He added that he had sacrificed a lot to achieve the high standards with the unflinching support of the government, the Mittal Champions Trust, his coaches and most importantly his family.
“Every time when I leave home, my two-and-a-half-year-old son Suryaveer asks me for a medal, even if I leave for training. I am glad that I have another gold medal for him,” said Sodhi, even as he recalled the overwhelming patronage of his father Malvinder Singh who had laid the strong foundation for his shooting.
Though the team was reduced to the bronze medal with world junior champion Asher Noria (134) and Vikram Bhatnagar (130) not staying to his level, Sodhi was sporting in saying that all three had one bad round, and thus was willing to share the responsibility for India (403) finishing behind China (414) and Kuwait (407).