Emulating the preceding generation is a way in the Sodhi household. Though yet to grasp the significance of the words, “When I grow up, I want to be like my dad,” which encapsulate the pictures, depicting a victorious Ronjan in various poses at the 2010 Lonato World Cup, young Suryaveer is getting ready for a similar role. Accorded a pride of place, the photo collage or “footprints”, a compilation of thoughts, put together by his nursery teacher, the four-year-old’s desire to “walk in space someday…” or “scale a mountain…” was probably what Ronjan had also dreamt of.Formative years
The ownership of vast tracts of land in the border town of Ferozepur meant guns came along with the trappings of power. Hence, it was no surprise when Malvinder Singh initiated Ronjan and younger sibling, Birendeep, into shooting. There was another reason for Sodhi Sr, a silver-medallist in double trap at the 1996 Nationals, to push his boys. "I was clear that they had to take to one form of sport or the other. Otherwise, the mind tends to wander," he says.
Starting out early was a decision the father and sons have not lived to regret. As parent and coach, Malvinder took the boys to the 1995 and 1996 Nationals, but opportunity came knocking when a dearth of shooters got Ronjan the chance to turn out for the senior Punjab team at the 1998 Nationals (also in Chennai).
The team gold in trap was life changing, as at 16, he became eligible to import ammunition and weapons.
The spark was unmistakable, but the growing ‘rivalry’ between the brothers left the father a tad uncomfortable. Though he insists that a competitive spirit was essential for developing the killer instinct, it was at Malvinder’s insistence that Ronjan switched to double-trap and within no time was competing for India alongside Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Moraad Ali Khan.
Making the right choice
As had been the case, life again placed him at a crossroad. The desire for sound education had seen him sail through Modern School and St Stephen’s but the test lay in turning his back to the lucrative offers, which started to pour in soon after he acquired a degree in international marketing business in 2002.
Malvinder’s impact had been profound, and yet again he showed Ronjan the way. “A lot of money and effort had gone into shaping his career, and we agreed that concentrating on shooting was the way to go,” he said. A decade down, the family stays thankful. Says Ruchika, a childhood friend, and now Ronjan’s wife, “Even now, when we play rapid fire, the name synonymous with Ronjan and shooting is dadda (Malvinder).”
If Rathore’s silver at the Athens Olympics impacted the Indian contingent, it took Abhinav Bindra’s gold at Beijing to instill the belief to settle for nothing less than the Olympics. Another personality to have a lasting impression is Sachin Tendulkar. “Even while in school, Ronjan used to be awed by his achievements but till date he can’t stop talking about his ability to stay grounded,” says Ruchika.
The admiration has now been handed down a generation. Even before Suryaveer was a year old, Ronjan had ensured that the infant was familiar with the name and aware of which sport he was associated with.
Despite making the team as early as 1999, Ronjan was in and out, but that started to change from 2006 and by the time he claimed his maiden World Cup medal, a bronze at Santo Domingo in 2007, the burly shotgun marksman had made it clear that he was a name to watch out for.
However, the journey for the world record holder (Belgrade, 2008 and Mexico, 2010) has had its share of troughs.
Moraad, who’s tracked Ronjan’s progress for sometime now, remembers the hard work that went into working on a technical weakness. “Ronjan has an unconventional shooting style but that’s now his strength. We changed the design of his equipment to suit his style.”
Thinking off the beaten track has paid dividend. A week after Ronjan set the world record in Mexico, Moraad, working in tandem, with national coach, Marcello Dradi, changed the gun fit. “People thought we were crazy but we kept the long-term plan in mind and Lonato happened soon after,” says Moraad. Going against popular advice, Ronjan too embarked on a weight-loss programme and has since last June lost around 25kg. “A lot of people discouraged me but I did not want to have an excuse for failing in London,” he says. “When you’re competing from 9am to 4pm, fitness does matter.”
Living with a champion comes with its share of adjustments. Even before they tied the knot, Ronjan had started to prepare Ruchika for life after marriage. Not only is she now reconciled to the months of separation, brought about by his long stints of training in Italy, the family is adept at reading his mind through the body language. “One can tell how he’s fared in competition with the way he puts the gun down or throws the cartridges,” says Ruchika.
If important family functions are tailored according to Ronjan’s schedule, the rules of engagement too are well defined — no arguments 15 days before competition. Differences, if any, are sorted out in the compact living space of the couple’s up-market address a couple of days after the event. Most times, resolution is amicable, but if stress comes as a byproduct, Ronjan is quick to deflect it by shopping for the family, going on a long drive or stirring up a spicy Indian meal.
Coach and mentor
His easy-going ways and the distinction of having touched the pinnacle, makes Ronjan sought after among budding shooters. Says Chetan Sansanwal, who has been working with Ronjan for seven years, “He has a flexible approach and will never suggest something which he wouldn’t do.” Ajay Mittal may have mounted the podium to receive the gold at the 2007 Asian Shooting Championship, but the burly double-trap shooter loses little time to share the circumstances that led to the epochal event. “ I went to Australia in 2007 without the faintest idea of spot shooting. From there, I joined Ronjan bhaiya in Italy and shared my concern. He taught me the intricacies for two months and lo, the result was there to be seen in Kuwait,” said Ajay. More than the tutoring, it is Ronjan’s mental toughness that has his pupils enamoured. Recalling the final of the 2011 World Cup in Slovenia, Chetan says, “The tension was palpable, but he was moving around with music playing in the ears. We were on the edge of our seats but he was listening to an item number!”
Swaying to the tunes of the hit from ‘Omkara’ was Ronjan’s way of deflecting the pressure, and it worked as he shot his way to a bronze.
Hobbies: Loves fatty Indian food, especially paneer. Can cook too, good at BBQs. Shopping for family works as a stress buster.