Lost & Found Tales

They were to win medals at the Olympics but imploded. Vinayak Padmadeo pens the redemption song of shotgun shooter Ronjan Sodhi and archer Deepika Kumari — from braving critical barbs post London to reclaiming podiums at smaller yet significant World Cup finals.

Written by Vinayak Padmadeo | Published:October 7, 2012 12:27 am

They were to win medals at the Olympics but imploded. Vinayak Padmadeo pens the redemption song of shotgun shooter Ronjan Sodhi and archer Deepika Kumari — from braving critical barbs post London to reclaiming podiums at smaller yet significant World Cup finals.

Maribor,a stepping stone to 2016

When double trap shooter Ronjan Singh Sodhi arrived at the New Delhi airport after finishing 11th and failing to qualify for the final at the London Games,he was pleasantly surprised to see his wife Ruchika waiting at the terminal building.

On other previous occasions when Ronjan had returned after successful campaigns — be it the Asian Games,the Commonwealth Games or World Cup Finals — Ruchika would receive him at their home in Greater Kailash. But in his darkest hour following the failure at London and over the next two months — from the time she welcomed Sodhi at the airport till he earned his redemption,a silver at the World Cup Finals in September — Ruchika was a source of strength.

However,Ronjan’s mood remained dark and sullen through August,something that did not go unnoticed by little Suryaveer,his four-year-old son.

Suryaveeer has a different take on why his mama went to pick up his papa at the airport. “It was to scold him for not winning a medal at the London Olympics,” Suryaveer quipped.

Spending time with his wife and son helped Ronjan shut out his mind from the recurring nightmare — the flashback of missing four targets in his last six shots of the third and final round in the qualifications at London.

“I still remember how it ended in the third round,where I missed the third last double before missing two more clay pigeons. The thought of clay targets falling and breaking into bits after hitting the ground instead of by the shots from my gun… It just took everything away. If I hadn’t missed that double I had a great chance of making the final.”

The second-place finish last month at Maribor,Slovenia,was his third consecutive medal at the Finals but more importantly a reassurance for the 32-year-old that he still could compete with the best in the world.

The failure at the Woolwich shooting range on August 2,a date he had earmarked on his calendar,still rankles him. But the silver won at Maribor has provided the balm.

In the days that followed his failure to reach the final,Ronjan was consumed by self-doubt.

He stayed on to watch Manavjit Singh Sandhu compete in the trap event at the Games but largely kept to himself.

“I used to go to the dining hall of the Games village only after mid-night so that I could avoid as many people as possible,” Ronjan now recalls.

As he opens up,it is clear that the hurt of not even entering the final,when he was touted as a medal prospect,still remains — albeit to a lesser extent.

“It was not that I was embarrassed or something. But I felt a certain hollowness after I failed to win a medal at London. I was so focussed on doing well on August 2,the date of the competition,and when I failed to qualify for the final I couldn’t cope with the feeling of emptiness ,” Ronjan said.

Solitary confinement

Once back home,he stayed indoors mostly and stayed away from all felicitation ceremonies for the 2012 Olympians.

It took time,that slow healer of pain,over two months to help Ronjan overcome his disappointment. He now can confidently say that he is looking ahead.

“I was so disturbed that I wasn’t myself. I didn’t know what to do. But eventually I realised that it was not the end of life. Ok,I didn’t do well but it did not mean that I should not train hard for Rio.”

Brazil is almost four years away. Before that there are the Commonwealth Games,the Asian Games and World Cups and World Cup Finals.

Maribor — where he beat three London medallists — was an important first stop towards his journey to qualify for the 2016 Games and then hopefully win that much-desired medal.

“The World Cup Final medal helped me regain my confidence. I am thankful to the sports ministry and the shooting federation for sending me to Italy for a 15-day training stint before the Finals. After the loss in London this has come as a relief because I beat three medallists,including Fehaid Al-Deehani who won the trap bronze,” Ronjan said.

In his effort to put London behind him,Ronjan,is sticking to his fitness routine — one which saw him shed weight.

His failure at the Olympics was also bizarrely attributed to,by former shooters and so-called experts during post-mortems on television shows,to his weight-loss programme.

The morning jog remains a daily routine though. He begins talking about post-London and post-Maribor after cooling down.

Ronjan had started off with 48 out of 50 in the first round at London,which put him on top but his scores fell steadily on that particularly fateful day.

“Shooting is a very mental sport. It’s not like weightlifting where if you consistently lift 100 kilograms even on your bad day you may lift 98. But in shooting,today if I am shooting 145,tomorrow it could be a 130. And won’t say it was a bad Olympics for me. I finished 11th and led the competition after the first round. I still remember I was shivering out of tension on the bus to the shooting arena. Yet,the moment I shot a 48 when everybody else struggled I thought nothing could stop me from winning a medal.”

Ronjan doesn’t want to fall back on excuses but he admits that he overlooked a crucial factor while training — spectators or home-crowd support.

Once Briton Richard Faulds,shooting on his left,hit 46 and 48 in the second and third round,the fans made a lot of noise.

“Frankly,I hadn’t trained in that kind of atmosphere. Usually I would take 7-8 seconds between shots but I took longer now. The referee indicated that time was becoming a factor for me and then I started to shoot within 3-4 seconds. It upset my routine.”

Nowadays with the World Cup Finals silver earned,Ronjan is more relaxed. Yet it is not possible to completely put behind memories of London and his mind drifts back to the second day of August.

“Missing four of your last six targets,I’m not going to forget that in a hurry…

“But I have certainly gained lessons from my failure at the London Games.”

After Tokyo,the golden girl has reason to smile again

As one of her own biggest critics,Deepika Kumari has no qualms accepting that at the September Tokyo World Cup finals,she lost the gold medal to South Korea’s Kim Bo Bae,rather than winning the silver. But while the podium finish balms over the pain of not making a fight at Lord’s,the personal nature of criticisms that came her way after her disappointing debut at this year’s Summer Games,still catch a raw nerve.

Her Olympics sojourn started on a bad note. While the team caught flu after landing in London,the 72-arrow qualification disappointment severely dented their morale. While the men barely held on to the last spot in qualifying,Deepika,Chekrovolu Swuro and Laishram Bombayla Devi ended ninth — way off their World No.2 standing. And if not for the late rally from Deepika,the team would have slid further. But as the tournament progressed,so did the team’s growing frustrations with below-par performances.

Days after the London Olympics debacle where she bombed,Deepika,India’s No.1 archer then,was accused of many things. That she had become arrogant,had scant regard for anybody and that she looked too happy after losing out so early.

“I have never given importance to what’s been written in the media. They overdid it though this time after London,” says Deepika,who is in the middle of a much-deserved break from shooting. “Since my junior days I’ve seen how fickle these things are. I have seen so many seniors being billed as big stars after they returned with a medal and then written off after a bad show in the next tournament. I would never take these things seriously.”

But nonetheless she was taken aback as critics questioned her focus after she failed to cross the first hurdle in the individual round – failing to get past Britain’s home favourite Amy Oliver. “They were saying I should have at least looked sad after my loss. What sort of criticism is that? Most of the criticism from coaches and the federation was right. After all so much money was spent on our training and travelling — but I do know how bad that loss looked and felt personally. I had been training for four years for the Olympics,and dreamt of winning a medal. But to go out in the manner I did,hurt very badly. I should have at least advanced a few more rounds. I was having trouble adjusting to the wind that day. By the time I realised it,the match was over. You can’t do anything afterwards but to move on quickly.”

Her family and assortment of coaches – at Jamshedpur’s Tata Archery Academy – quickly moved in to settle her nerves. “They asked me to relax. I stayed in Ranchi for a while and kept to myself and chose not to go out at all. I got to spend time at home,which was the best thing that happened after Olympics.”

400-arrow routine

And within days she was back to her same routine of shooting close to 400 arrows in training. But lessons have been learnt,she says,and now more so after her younger sister Vidya has chosen the same path.

Vidya has been signed by the Tata Archery Academy and Deepika says that after what she underwent,her sister too would be prepared for it.

“If and when she plays for the team — coaches here are very impressed — she should know how difficult it is to face criticism. It’s a good starting point for her and she’s seen what I had to endure. It’ll be very difficult though. I always knew I’d face flak and was prepared for it,but it took me some time to get over it,” Deepika says.

While pondering her Olympics disappointment,the other good thing that happened was that she didn’t get too much time to think over her misses. “The tournament schedule was known so I shifted my focus back on training quickly. It was good that I didn’t get much time to think about the Olympics.”

A month later she bagged the silver – she was on pole to win gold,leading the double Olympic gold medallist Korea’s Kim Bo Bae,4-0 in the final,but lost. It was only a small consolation.

“I lost the gold. But this is what defines sport. The most important thing was I came back with a medal. I wasn’t proving anything to anyone else,just getting back my confidence. I had a lot to prove to myself and winning that silver at Tokyo told me that I was doing most things right before London. I intend to work harder going forward.”

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