When clay pigeons yielded gold for Ronjan Sodhi

The hero of Indian shooting, perhaps Indian sports itself, was Ronjan Sodhi. He defended the World Cup gold in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, beating the World record holder Hu Binyuan of China.-M. MOORTHY

It was a year when Indian sports went into hibernation. Indeed it was important to go into the sleep mode after the high of the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in 2010. Indian sports needed to train hard and launch itself strongly, albeit within its limitations, for the London Olympics in 2012. There was no luxury of taking it relatively easy in many disciplines as the qualification requirements had to be met, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

It was a year when Indian sports went into hibernation. Indeed it was important to go into the sleep mode after the high of the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games in 2010. Indian sports needed to train hard and launch itself strongly, albeit within its limitations, for the London Olympics in 2012. There was no luxury of taking it relatively easy in many disciplines as the qualification requirements had to be met.

Like the soldiers being in constant vigil, the Indian shooters can never put their guns down and relax. They had to secure the Olympic quota places, compressed into one season in a new format. Thus, many had to fire their best, to be one among the 390 shooters who will assemble from around the world, to have a go at the 45 medals at stake.

The hero of Indian shooting, perhaps Indian sports itself, was Ronjan Sodhi. The double trap marksman had shown his class by clinching the only gold for Indian shooting in the Asian Games in Guangzhou. He rose to the challenge yet again as he defended the World Cup gold in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, beating the world record holder Hu Binyuan of China 2-1 in the shoot-off for the gold after having tied at 187 with the Olympic medallist.

The score had dipped from 192 when he had won the World Cup Final for the first time in Izmir, Turkey, last year, but the 32-year-old Ronjan observed that the clay-birds in Al Ain, incidentally the same ones that would be used in London, were hard and tough to break, as he shot 142 in qualification and 45 in the final.

With a silver medal in the Beijing World Cup that saw him clinch the Olympic quota place and the bronze in the World Cup in Maribor when he shot an imposing 194, the strong man from Ferozepur emphasised that he would be one of the favourites for an Olympic medal.

Quite inexplicably, after having missed the Olympic final in Beijing in 2008 when his score of 595 had made the cut, Ronjan has been nursing his hunger for the big medal. For all his brilliant achievements, he has no medal from the World Championship in eight attempts!

Like Ronjan, four other shooters won World Cup medals and along with it the Olympic quota places. Sanjeev Rajput shot a national record 1176 and a total of 1278.2 as he clinched the gold in the rifle 3-position event in the Changwon World Cup, when he beat the silver medallist by a whopping 5.7 point margin.

Pistol shooters hogged the attention, despite there being no specialist pistol coach for the Indians, as Vijay Kumar (silver), Annu Raj Singh (silver) and Rahi Sarnobat (bronze) won World Cup medals with admirable scores.

Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra won the quota place in the World Cup in Munich as did woman trap shooter Shagun Chowdhary, who missed a World Championship medal by a whisker in Belgrade owing to a shaky second half in the final.

With a last chance in the Asian championship around the corner in January, there were positive signs. Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore shot a world record 148 out of 150 in the inaugural Asian shotgun championship in Kuala Lumpur, as he bagged the gold with a total of 194. Skeet shooter Man Singh also equalled the Asian record of 149 out of 150 to raise the collective hope.

Badminton ace Saina Nehwal went through a slide, going by her high standards of the previous season when she won the Commonwealth Games gold and a string of super series titles. For someone who has not crossed the quarterfinals in the Asian Games, world championships and the Olympics, Saina will be all charged up to be at her competitive best in the London Games.

Of course, two other women turned the spotlights on themselves as Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa captured the elusive doubles bronze medal in the World Championship in London. They have a good chance of bagging an Olympic medal if they train hard and sustain their motivation.

Indian boxing that had hit a high with Vijender Singh winning the bronze in the Beijing Games, secured four quota places for the London Games through Manoj Kumar, Devendro Singh, Jai Bhagwan and Vikas Krishan. Of course, there will be more opportunities for the Indian boxers to win tickets to London, even as the Asian Games gold medallist Vikas won everyone's heart by winning the World Championship bronze medal in Baku. He was only the second Indian to accomplish the feat after Vijender.

Right from the Barcelona Olympics when Limba Ram had been viewed as ‘Aaj ka Arjun', Indian archers have flattered to deceive. However, the women, led by the 17-year-old Deepika Kumari, took some concrete steps forward as they won the silver medal in the World championship, beating world and Olympic champion Korea in the semifinals by four points.

With Chekrovolu Swuro and Bombayla Devi as the other members, the Indian women's team lost the final 207-210 to Italy, the host in the world championship in Torino in August. However, the Indian trio won the gold in the World Cup in China the following month, beating the Italians. Jayanta Talukdar helped the Indian men win one of the berths for the London Games in the world championship.

Vikas Krishan...following in Vijender's footsteps.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Deepika also won the world junior crown in Poland, to add to her world cadet title won in 2009. She had a clutch of medals both in the individual and team events to rise to a career-high No. 3 rank in the world.

Wrestling was a disappointment as India has not won a single quota place for the London Games so far. But with three more chances of qualification, the wrestlers were confident about booking their tickets to London. Indian weightlifting hit the depths and there was no question of anyone gaining any Olympic berths.

In Indian tennis, there was good news to begin with as Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi joined hands, but the duo opted to split at the end of the season. Of course, with Rohan Bopanna also joining Paes and Bhupathi to be among the top-10 in the doubles rankings, it was indeed a good scenario.

But it was not a healthy sign when Bopanna opted to split with Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan to partner Bhupathi for the new season. It was, however, done with a vision, as the new Indian combination fancied its chances better, after Paes had told Bhupathi that both needed to look for younger partners to stay at the top of world tennis in doubles.

Having won the singles bronze behind Andre Agassi and Sergei Bruguera in the Atlanta Games in 1996, Paes has been keen to get another Olympic medal. It will be his sixth Olympics, and Paes could have more options with mixed doubles figuring in the London Games.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have effected a strategic split. Rohan Bopanna is Bhupathi's new partner.-V. GANESAN

Sania Mirza rose to the top-10 in women's doubles, but has been grappling with injuries in her bid to regain top form in singles. With outstanding performances spread over three Asian Games in Busan, Doha and Guangzhou, the 25-year-old Sania will try her hardest to land an Olympic medal.

Somdev Devvarman had a memorable year as he moved to a career-best rank of 62 — the best in nearly two decades for an Indian after Ramesh Krishnan — following his final appearance in the Tour event in Johannesburg. What was most appreciable was the 26-year-old Devvarman's straight-set victory over Janko Tipsarevic, a top-10 professional, as India took on defending champion Serbia in Novi Sad in the World Group first round of the Davis Cup.

Rohan Bopanna had shown his class earlier when he stretched Viktor Troicki to five sets, but in partnership with Devvarman, he lost the crucial doubles in four sets. This put paid to the hopes of a dramatic third day. India lost 1-4 to Japan in the World Group play-off eventually and was pushed back to the Asia-Oceania zone. Back home, at the Nehru Stadium in Delhi, that was perhaps too big for the comfort of the few spectators, Indian football, ranked 162 in the world, showed that it was a force in the South Asian region. India won the SAFF championship with a 4-0 victory over Afghanistan.

Alok Kumar followed in the footsteps of Pankaj Advani to take the Asian billiards title, as he beat former world champion Praput Chiatanasukan of Thailand 101-2, 101-2, 100-85,100-72, 101-18, 101-57 in the final, in Kish Island, Iran.

In Bangalore, there was a marathon 10-hour fight for the world snooker title, but it did not feature an Indian, as Pankaj Advani and Kamal Chawla lost in the semifinals. The 17-year-old Hossein Vafaei Ayouri of Iran beat Lee Walker of Wales for the crown, which many believed that Pankaj Advani would win again at home.