Focused on the present

Indias only individual gold medal winner is ready to fire another shot

Focused on the present

When Abhinav Bindra lines up to fire the first shot of the 10M air rifle event in London, it is hard to imagine his thoughts flying back to an August day in Beijing, four years ago.


August 11, 2008, to be precise. That was the day when he fired the shot that changed his life forever, and also the way India will ever approach an Olympic Games.

No individual Olympic gold medal even after decades of trying – that was India’s history in the quadrennial sporting fiesta. It was Bindra’s chance to change it. Hours, days and years of hard work then finally boiled down to this shot – the tenth and final shot in the gold medal round.

Perfection means he needs to shoot 10.9. Bindra is not perfect, at least on this shot. His nerves of steel are good enough to pull off a 10.8 – not perfect but still a magical figure that will define the strength of his mind and seal his place in the pages of history.

The significance of the gold that he won on that day is evident in the way India is heading to London. Most importantly, it has ensured that the country’s athletes will have an extra spring in their strides at these Games. An intangible element called confidence will course through their veins, thanks to the unbreakable will of a champion performer.

But will the Bindra mind hark back to that golden day, come July 30?
“Winning in Beijing has not given me any free points for London,”  Bindra had said back in November, showing how detached he was from the past and how focused he was about the task on hand.


“Defending champion, certainly I am going to be, but I will be starting a fresh competition. I have to prepare for every shot, I have to kill myself -- not kill myself, I have to be on top of every shot and that is what I look to do. Whatever has to happen will happen,” he had said.


The Bindra journey with its strong links to the Olympic Games is one of the most remarkable tales in Indian sport. London will be Bindra’s fourth Olympics -- not a stupendous feat in itself but a hugely inspiring one considering the odds he was up against.


Bindra was only 17 when he made his Olympic debut in Sydney 2000. Competing after earning a hardship quota (for deserving shooters who doesn’t hold a quota place) with a world junior record, Bindra missed the final by one point but was richer for the experience.


Devastated


His second Games, Athens in 2004, was a crushing story. Well prepared and poised to strike, Bindra’s world came crashing down around him as a faulty floor upset his final performance. Seventh place was a poor reward for the work he had put in.
Beijing 2008 then altered everything. By the time the Games arrived, Bindra had moved far beyond the world that featured mere victories and defeats. A sage-like mentality had taken over him. The journey and the effort that went into it had become more important than the ultimate result. His calmness was astounding even to his coach Gaby Buehlmann, a five-time Olympian herself.


Two years before Beijing, Bindra had become the world champion, braving a serious back problem. Overcoming that he had prepared for his biggest examination in the toughest of ways, from brain-mapping to commando training.

 

He had conquered his fears and arrived with the feeling that he was already a winner. Nothing could stop his march, not even a rifle that was allegedly tampered with just before the final.

London 2012 is a different challenge for Bindra. Post Beijing, he took a break from the sport, recharged his batteries and is taking aim again. Last November, another of his coaches Heinze Reinkemeier remarked that Bindra was once again becoming crazy – crazy about his goal and crazy about his ways to reach that target.


Bindra was among the last to nail a quota for Beijing – at the World Cup in Munich last year – but he showed his preparations were well on track by winning the Asian Championships gold medal in Doha. That was an ideal stepping stone even for a man who believes in peaking only for the real big one – the Olympic Games. Warm-up competitions since then have fetched scores that are promising without being out of the world.


In the brief history of air rifle at the Olympic Games – the event made its debut in 1984 — no shooter has ever defended his gold medal. That will not bother Bindra. No world champion had ever won the gold medal in Olympics till this fiercely self-motivated individual scripted history in Beijing. Proving himself again, pitting his mind against the best in the business, is the challenge this time and that is right up this 29-year-old’s alley.

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