‘80 per cent of shooting is between the ears’

Gold standard... Ronjan Sodhi on the podium after winning the gold medal with two world records in the World Cup in Belgrade. He is flanked by Richard Faulds of Britain (left) and Hakan Dahlby of Sweden.-Gold standard... Ronjan Sodhi on the podium after winning the gold medal with two world records in the World Cup in Belgrade. He is flanked by Richard Faulds of Britain (left) and Hakan Dahlby of Sweden.

“I don’t see myself continuing in the sport after the Rio Games. I want to give it my best shot and get that Olympic medal,” says Khel Ratna Ronjan Sodhi in a chat with Kamesh Srinivasan.

Ronjan Sodhi has been a dominant force in world shooting, but he does not have an Olympic or a World Championship medal to speak for his prowess. He has won everything else, including the Asian Games gold, which has been won only by two other Indian shooters in individual events — Randhir Singh and Jaspal Rana.

Ronjan is the only shooter to have won the gold medal in World Cup Finals twice. Following a disappointing performance at the London Olympics, he salvaged some pride and self-belief by winning the silver medal in the World Cup Finals last year.

The rule changes this season have revolutionised the sport, and Ronjan was busy buying fresh stock and a barrel for his gun in Italy after the World Championship in Lima, Peru.

The 33-year-old shooter spoke to Sportstar about the Olympics and the World Championship jinx, the rule changes and how they have changed the sport.

Excerpts:

Question: Is there some voodoo chasing you in the Olympics and World Championships?

Answer: Not really. I had a bad start in the World Championship. The condition was tough and visibility was poor. I missed a double at the start and one later. There were a few bad decisions by the referee. I was fighting hard with all my years of experience. I never gave up. It was very close in the end.

London Olympics was a nightmare, as you were right there in the race to make the finals before you missed a double towards the end of the last series. And what is the mystery behind the fact that you have made it to only one final in eight World Championships?

Yes, I do know that I made the final only in Maribor. I don’t know whether it is a jinx. This year was supposed to be a light year, as the next year is going to be big with Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Championships. I did treat the Olympics and the World Championships like any other competition, as I did not want to add to the pressure by being intense and trying too hard. I am charged up to compete until the Rio Olympics, and I am confident that the medals I have missed will find their way to my showcase.

How do you look back at the London Games?

It is over. I had to wait so long to compete in my first Olympics. I know that if you miss your chance in the Olympics, it takes a long time before you get another chance. I realised that no matter how great the flow may be and how well you shoot, you have to be completely focused till the last target is shot. Things can go wrong in a fraction of a second and shatter your four years of hard work. I will always remember that I missed a double towards the end and it changed everything. There was no coming back.

For people who understand the sport, your achievements are phenomenal. Otherwise, the common man knows you only as a shooter who has won the Asian Games gold or the Commonwealth Games silver…

Actually, most people understand only Olympics. Lot of people don’t know about the World Cups, the World Cup Finals. I don’t feel bad about it; it is nothing new to me. Even being World No. 1 or getting a world record may not mean much to most of the people. I am comfortable with it. I know shooting is not that popular when compared with many other sports in the country.

You have beaten the best of shooters in the World Cups and World Cup Finals a few times. What is the difference that you found in them at the World Championship and the Olympics?

Not much difference. It all depends on the performance on the day. The Olympic days are so few in a sportsman’s career and that adds to the aura and perhaps the pressure. The shooters understand this. If you have Olympics four times in four days, you may have four different winners. That is the beauty of shooting.

Are you sure that you have had the best preparation considering the whole-hearted support of the Government and the Mittal Champions Trust over the years?

Yes, I have always prepared the best. This time it was a little different as we were following the old rules, and the World Cups were on us. There was no time to get new equipment and get used to the new rules, which have changed the sport drastically. However, the support has been very good. Talent alone cannot take you anywhere. You need the exposure and the experience of competing with the best. The juniors are also getting fantastic support now. When we were juniors we got one international exposure in a year, and we had to reach a certain score to be eligible for it.

You were absolutely on top in double trap, shooting world records and big scores. Do you feel that circumstances and you have not combined well to capitalise on that in the big events?

I am satisfied with what I have won. Except for the Olympics, I have really been consistent in the last seven years or so. I have been in the Top 10 and made the World Cup Finals six years in a row, which means that I was very good through those years to make the season-ending championship.

How is your hunger and drive to achieve, especially in the next year that has Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Championship?

I am keen to shoot my best till the Rio Games. You can shoot if you are fit, and people at 47 or 49 have been winning Olympic and World Championship medals. But I don’t see myself continuing in the sport after the Rio Games. I want to give it my best shot and get that Olympic medal.

How do you view the rule changes in double trap?

Earlier we had three rounds of qualification and the 50 targets in each round had a set pattern. Now the patterns remain the same at three, but there is unpredictability as any pattern can come out every time you call a target. You have 30 targets spread over five rounds, and that takes a lot out of you, as the preparation for each round is quite a bit. The zero start in the knockout stage removes all the advantage that you had in the qualification. The semi-finals and the medal matches make it long and unwieldy, perhaps boring too. Yet, the best shooters will master it and shoot big scores. The Russians have already shown as they were preparing for the new rules immediately after the London Games. The No. 1 in qualification has all the pressure to hold on to his good work, but the last shooter has no pressure and often shoots the best to take the medals. At the end of the day, 80 per cent of it is between the ears. The best will sort things out.

How are you going to prepare to be at your best in the new scenario?

I will use the same old gun for the Asian Championship in Kazakhstan. Afterwards, I have about three months to train with the new gun and get ready for the National Championship. Next year is an important year, and I will be ready.

Ronjan Sodhi receives the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna from the President, Pranab Mukherjee, at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.-R.V. MOORTHY

Rathore is not around; he has entered politics. Do you find good shooters pushing you to your best in double trap?

Yes, Rathore has moved on to politics. He must have given it a lot of thought. He has been an inspiration not just for us, but to the entire Indian sport with his Olympic silver medal. There are some good shooters now, like Mohd. Asab. They need one international medal to believe in themselves. I also have been through it. The first World Cup medal in Santo Domingo in 2007 gave me the start for the big medals. The juniors are getting chances. You have to be at your best to make the Indian team.

What is your observation about Marcelo Dradi and Moraad Ali Khan as coaches? Why not add a specialist double trap coach?

Well, for the coaches also it is an entirely new situation now with the new rules. It is a new sport. I have to unlearn a lot and learn things afresh. At the level that I am shooting, sharp observations make the difference. A specialist double trap coach will definitely help, but there are not many around.

You didn’t return home after the World Championship. How difficult is it for you to stay away from your family, especially son Suryaveer, for long periods?

There is nothing that comes out of thinking about it. That is the way it is. You have to be training and competing most of the time abroad. Till the Rio Games, I have to do it. I want to do it. I would not have been able to do it without the support of the family. When I return home that is my vacation. We understand the situation and are ready for it.

What do you have to say about your brother Birendeep. Has he been able to do justice to his potential?

Yes, he has not lived up to his potential, but he still has time. My father asked me to shift to double trap from trap so as to avoid competition at home! I was elder and had to start afresh. I had to sacrifice. It turned out to be good. Trap, double trap or skeet, it is only about 15 people in each discipline who keep winning. Trap may see bigger competition in terms of numbers, but the top chaps are almost the same in number everywhere.

Is your father Malvinder Sodhi satisfied with your achievements, or does he expect more from you?

Nobody is ever satisfied. Whatever you get, you are never satisfied. Of course, there is contentment. He wants me to achieve a lot more, and expects the same from my brother as well. I like the challenge.

How do you view the Indian shooting scene and what do you like to tell the youngsters who are looking up to you?

Indian shooting is very healthy and moving in the right direction. There have been some problems of discipline on tours, but that has been dealt with firmly. The youngsters are getting fantastic chances now, and it is for them to make the best use of them. I tell the youngsters, if you have a dream, the determination and dedication to work hard, nothing is impossible.

Must be quite pleased with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award though it came a year late? You kept a dignified silence when there was so much noise about who deserved it better…

At the end of it all, I was put off. You can’t ask for recognition. I think the system has to be changed. The members deciding the awards should not be revealed; they should be kept secret. That will avoid all the lobbying. There should not be so much time between selection and announcement. We projected a very poor image of the awards this time to the youngsters. When the top sportspersons from various disciplines meet and decide, the decision should be promptly announced. I don’t blame anyone for not knowing the quality of achievements of a shooter. It is for the expert in each discipline to clarify to the Chairman, as others will not be able to understand so easily the magnitude of achievements.

SODHI FACTFILE Born: October 23, 1979, in Ferozepur (Punjab) Education: MBA Occupation: DSP (Punjab Police) Best performances Olympics: 11th at London 2012 World Championship: Sixth, Maribor (2009)

World Cup Final: Gold, Izmir (2010); Gold, Al Ain (2011); Silver, Maribor (2012).

World Cup: Gold, Belgrade (2008 — Equalled World Record 147; Equalled Final World Record 194); Gold, Lonato (2010); Silver, Minsk (2009); Silver, Beijing (2011); Bronze, Santo Domingo (2007); Bronze, Maribor (2011).

Asian Games: Gold, Guangzhou (2010). Commonwealth Games: Silver, New Delhi (2010).

Asian Championship: Gold, Almaty (2009); Silver, Manila (2007).

Awards: Arjuna Award (2008); Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (2012).