Abhinav Bindra's insane search for perfection should inspire all Indian athletes
Binhdra has in his own manner, through trial and error, shown Indian shooters and Indian sportsmen the way ahead.
The final of the 10m Air Rifle event was on at the Incheon Asian Games. Abhinav Bindra was in a tight spot - Iran's Pourya Norouziyan was in third place, 0.7 pts ahead of the Indian shooter and looking good for a bronze medal.
Bindra shot a 10.5 with what seemed like his final shot. A 10.5 is more than a decent score when you consider that 10.9 is the best one can do. But this was an event in which the lead was being decided by mere decimals.
So after shooting the 10.5, Bindra shook his head, looked down and was all set to put his gun down - for the last time as a "professional" athlete. Then, he heard the crowd gasp. He looked up to see that Pourya, the Iranian shooter, had shot 9.6. It was the Iranian shooters lowest score of the final. It meant he crashed out of the event and handed the bronze to Bindra.
Bindra's look back at his corner was a mixture of puzzlement and amazement. He couldn't quite believe how the medal had landed in his lap but he wasn't one to begrudge it either.
Bindra's sequence of shots in the final was quite amazing (once again keep in mind, the best possible shot is 10.9) -- 10.4, 10.5, 10.2, 10.5, 10.4, 9.9, 10.3, 10.9, 10.4, 10.7, 10.3, 9.6, 10.4, 10.5, 10.3, 10.5, 10.6, 10.7. Only two shots below 10 but yet it was only good enough for a bronze. The levels of perfection required are insane and so is the pressure. It comes down to millimetres. It comes down to one wrong breath of air that puts you off.
It all points to the bloody mindedness that one needs to medal at an event of the stature of the Olympics/Asian Games. A bloody mindedness that only Bindra and a precious few Indian athletes have been able to display. A bloody mindedness that we can say with certainty that no Indian official shares.
Bindra's versions of bloody-mindedness have changed over the years. But they remain just as potent.
At the Sydney Olympics in 2000 as an 18-year-old, he was just testing the waters. A junior champion scouting the seniors.
In the 2004 Games in Athens, a 22-year-old Bindra set an Olympic record with a score of 597/600 across his first 60 shots - and still ended up seventh. After his final ended, it was found that the No.3 shooting position where Bindra was shooting from had a wobbly floor. They fixed it before the next final but it was too late for Bindra. He had to wait for another four years; four years for another shot at glory.
For a year and a half after Athens, he took an intense meditation course. Then, he ensured that the time wasn't wasted. He hired a personal coach at his own expense, hooked himself to a machine that identified what activity was going on in his brain when he was shooting well. He did commando training for three weeks prior to the Olympics. He tried negotiating a rock face blindfolded and even climbing a 40ft “pizza” pole. To get accustomed to the atmosphere, he hired a wedding hall in Chandigarh for a day and converted it into his shooting range. He was on the shooting tour constantly; training, living and breathing every little aspect of shooting. He was lost in a world that was his very own, focussing on that elusive gold.
At age 26, his dream came true. He had become the first Indian to win an individual gold when he won the 10 m Air Rifle event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His victory ended a gold drought that had lasted since 1980. India hasn't won a gold medal at the Olympics since. We have got close but a gold has been beyond us.
The Olympics dream took so much out of Bindra that he took a break from shooting after the event. For six months he stayed away from the sport. He wanted to know if he could approach the London Olympics with the same kind of intensity; with the same kind of madness. He decided, he couldn't. He decided that he wanted to find a new way to the medal.
So for the London Olympics he didn't climb mountains. Instead, he got his eyes Lasiked; a chiropractor alignined his bones to probably help with posture. It didn't work as well. He shot 594 out of 600 and crashed out in qualifying. The second Olympic medal was not to be. By this point, Bindra was not competing on the circuit as regularly as he once did and injuries stalled his progress.
His focus was there in patches. He fought the bigger battles against officialdom in a way few Indian athletes have. He fought against corruption in sport. He found new battles to fight and new causes too.
At the end of the day, he remained someone who was experienced the ills of the Indian system and was determined to set it right. Just a few days after he won the gold medal at Beijing, Suresh Kalmadi, the then president of the Indian Olympic Association, got his name wrong. He kept calling him “Avinash.” The lack of support was galling. For Indian officials, none of this mattered.
In his book, A Shot at History, Bindra dedicated a chapter to sports administrators titled “Mr. Indian Official: Thanks for Nothing.”
“In India, we must swim through chaos on the way to a medal. It almost feels as if our medals are more meaningful, considering what we go through to win one,” he said in the book.
Just a day before his event started at the Asian Games, Bindra tweeted that it would be the last time he would shoot as a professional (training 40-50 hours a week). After this, he will continue as a "hobby shooter," practising twice a week because he really loves the sport. And if that gets him to Rio in 2016 for the next Olympics, then so be it.
But along the way, he has in his own manner, through trial and error, shown Indian shooters and Indian sportsmen the way ahead.
Professionalism and a bloody-mindedness are prerequisites as is perhaps a certain brand of insanity; insanity simply because you won't survive the Indian officials or the best in the world without that.
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