Aiming for the gold

Lead review
Last Updated 26 November 2011, 15:49 IST

A shot at history — my obsessive journey to olympic gold
Abhinav Bindra with Rohit Brijnath
Harper Sport
2011, pp 215

A week before his life-changing trip to the Beijing Olympic Games, Abhinav Bindra climbed on top of a 40-feet pole as part of a commando training regimen devised by his coach. It was a means to conquer fear, slay the inner demons before his ultimate test — his
pinnacle before the real pinnacle, which arrived on August 11, 2008.

Half-way up, he hesitated. The crowd that gathered below egged him on. Giving it up would have meant embracing the attitude of a quitter. A strong mind refused to accept that possibility. Moments later, he was right on top, and all alone — the sweet loneliness that only real champions can savour.

Days later, he would experience that loneliness again, winning the 10M air rifle gold medal at the Olympic Games and sending his country to paroxysms of delight. What Bindra achieved on that August day is now a glorious chapter in India’s sporting history. What is not so well known is the path India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist traversed to reach the summit. A Shot At History — My Obsessive Journey to Olympic Gold, Bindra’s autobiography penned in partnership with well-known sports writer Rohit Brijnath, attempts to uncover that journey, offering a peek into the mind of a champion who did what no other Indian individual had managed in a hundred years and more.

Hockey teams before and after Independence had made India’s presence felt at the Olympic Games with a series of sinuous runs to the top of the podium. But post-1980, that coveted spot had eluded the country’s best. On individual terms, three bronze medals and a silver were all that we had till 2008 — bronze from Kashaba Jadhav in wrestling (Helsinki, 1952), Leander Paes in tennis (Atlanta, 1996) and Karnam Malleswari in weightlifting (Sydney, 2000); silver from another shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in 2004.

Tales of failure and near-misses by Indian challengers abound the chronicles of every Olympic Games. So much so, that a cloak of negativity and fear envelops the Indian contingent before it embarks on its trip to the Olympic city every four years. A billion people and not even a single gold had been a refrain familiar to every Indian who followed Olympic sport.

A fiercely motivated Bindra and his blazing gun changed all that, embedding a largely unknown sporting discipline deep into the Indian consciousness. A Shot At History throws light on the rise of this sport as the country’s main avenue for an international medal, events and efforts that shaped a champion, and how he charted a route unknown to his
compatriots till then.

“There are 1,000 roads to Rome. This was mine,” Bindra writes on his twitter page about his journey. It was arduous, painful and often frustrating, and it is indeed doubtful whether anyone else can traverse the same path that Bindra took in his single-minded pursuit.

From a 13-year-old who started out in the makeshift range under a mango tree at the home of his first coach to the top of the Olympic podium in 2008 is a long way and there was never an easy step in Bindra’s path. From quirky officials who doubted his incredible scores as a teen to a faulty floor in the final range that dashed his gold medal chance at the 2004 Olympic Games, adversity took many forms to challenge him to the hilt. Lesser mortals would have given up the chase, but Bindra didn’t flinch and that is the essence of this man and his life — how he found his way past every obstacle, how he rose from the ashes of that Athens debacle to strike a piercing blow to the very heart of a nation that has something India sorely lacks — a rigid system to groom champions.

When Zhu Qinan — China’s great hope and also the defending champion — was reduced to tears in front of Bindra’s brilliance in Beijing, the Indian kept his composure and even wondered what the fuss was all about. Tears burst forth from his eyes many days later in the privacy of a hotel room, when the impact his medal had on his people and the significance of his achievement dawned upon him.

Bindra has been a much misunderstood character during his stay in the public eye. He has been branded aloof and even arrogant when essentially he is a simple individual who chose to follow his passion with rare zeal. And that Bindra persona you can find in this book, along with Brijnath, grabs you by the hand and takes you through his battles — with injuries, with form, with officials, but essentially with himself, as he travels to the core of his craft, chasing an ‘elusive, untameable beast’ called perfection in distant lands, through different means.

Bindra is bang on when he trains his gun on the chalta hai attitude of the lethargic officialdom and stresses the fact that without support from his family — both financial and moral — he would not have reached where he is now. That might be a luxury to many of his compatriots, but with those broad shoulders to lean on, Bindra could turn his unwavering focus on his goal. Still, it took uncommon determination and a mind of a sage to withstand the pressures along the way. Extraordinary is the word to describe his life, and compelling is the manner in which it has been presented in this book. A must read for every Indian sports fan and official alike, A Shot At History is also an inspirational book in courage and dedication for the country’s aspiring sportspersons.

(Published 26 November 2011, 15:41 IST)

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