Abhinav Bindra doesn’t look like the fun guy you’d hang out with for a drink on a weeknight.
There are (horror) stories about his obsession, discipline and inhuman levels of determination in order to achieve what he has had to. Whether it is true or not, to even be suspected of having had your love handles removed surgically, or the heels of your shoe shaved by 1 mm, or to have Chinese yak milk imported for concentration—is a scary proposition as an individual. But as an athlete, as a sportsman, it is a compliment—a testament to his foresight and patience. Obsession doesn’t remain obsession if it results in success. It becomes part of a process then, a well-honed, age-old process of excelling at a sport, at any cost.
Bindra is 32 years old. He was the youngest Indian to compete at the Games back in 1998 as a 15 year old. Nothing is attained without sacrifice, but there seems to be sacrifice written all over Bindra’s face, over his body, and over his monk-type demeanour. He also looks like the kind of man that doesn’t take a joke too well, or the boy that’d always be a party-pooper, or the possessive quiet kinds for the women—who he doesn’t seem to have the time for. Shooting is an alien event to many, but only shooters are aware of the effort they must put in to be competitive at the highest level. Like any other sport, it is decided by the narrowest of margins. It also has its share of Europeans, army men and Britishers. Therefore, for an Indian boy—who comes across as an arrogant, confident and entitled snob—to succeed not once or twice, but multiple times on the highest of World stages, is quite an accomplishment.
After all, Abhinav Bindra is India’s first-ever individual Olympic goal medalist. He will always be known as that athlete. He may not look the part, but he certainly is. His latest victory—the individual gold at the 10m air rifle event, his pet event, at the Games (and his first individual Gold in four attempts)—only reaffirms his place in Indian history books. His win may have started a deluge for the rest of Indian shooters at Glasgow, but it also puts into perspective how he never went away, despite his failure in the 2012 London Olympics. He had failed to qualify for the final there as he watched fellow shooter Gagan Narang grab a bronze, but here he trailed Ravi Kumar (favourite to win) for the entire qualifying event, finishing 3rd, before dominating everybody in the Final for a new Games record and an easy win. For the first time though, the Qualifying scores weren’t used as an aggregate, and he started afresh in the final. He shot 205.3, only shooting less than 10 thrice in his 20 final shots.
Bindra had announced before the event that it would be his final Commonwealth Games. He had won 8 medals by then and 3 team Golds, but had failed to achieve glory in the individual event. He was a World Champion and an Olympic Gold medalist, and this was the only medal left to achieve. That he did it by such a comfortable margin is a tribute to his long-standing Swiss coach Gabriele Buhlmann, who must find it difficult to deal with a student that has already achieved everything.
His next target is Rio 2016, which could be his final Olympics. While Athens 2004 was his darkest hour (he finished 8th in the final), and Beijing 2008 his brightest, Rio 2016 could be his swansong. He is no late bloomer, more like a child prodigy—who, to the credit of his coaches, was encouraged and picked at a very young age. That his family could afford the resources is a bonus, but that was the job only half done. It is still upto him to convert that into something substantial, and that he has done, with considerable style.