On this day: Reliving Abhinav Bindra's Beijing Olympics gold medal

With a final score of 104.5 at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Abhinav Bindra wiped out the memories of Athens from four years earlier, when he had shot 97.6.

Abhinav Bindra in action in the men’s 10m air rifle shooting event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Bindra won India’s first ever individual Olympic gold medal when he claimed the title.   -  AFP

August 11, 2008: It was the golden day for Indian sports. It was the day Indian sports graduated from collective excellence to individual brilliance on the Olympic stage.

It was perhaps the only day in the last four Olympics that one felt a lump of emotion, and a trace of moisture in the eyes, listening to the national anthem, with the national flag going up.

It was a positive sign to find a bunch of Indian journalists catching the early morning bus to the shooting range. None of us wanted to miss the qualification phase.

There were hopes that there could be two Indians in the final, in 10-metre air rifle, as Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang were on course. Abhinav made it with 596 out of 600, one point below the score he had shot in Athens.

Gagan missed out by one point, on the count back as four others with 595 made the final.

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We all rushed to the ‘final’ hall, to take the best seats available. I sat with Rajeev Kolasseri and Sukhwant Basra. Some of the Indian shooters sat scattered to our right.

When the ‘sighter’ series started, it was a shock. Abhinav had shot 4.2. The immediate thought, “why was Athens threatening to repeat again.” Abhinav had only one 10 during the warm up.

Of course, a conspiracy theory floated later that somebody had tried to sabotage his chances by damaging his gun. If anything, Abhinav was intensely focused and tweaking his gun to its best performance, taking quick glances at his coach Gaby Buehlmann of Switzerland. The suspense was huge.

Abhinav had 10.7 on the first shot. Eventually, he had all 10s in the 10-shot final. He was in joint lead with Henri Hakkinen of Finland after nine shots, and was first to release the last shot, a 10.8. The Finn fumbled with a 9.7 that got him the bronze. Defending champion Zhu Qinan shot 10.5 for the silver, and the Chinese was inconsolably in tears, right through the press conference in front of the world media.

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“I sincerely hope that it changes the face of Olympic sport in the country,” said Abhinav, quite in control of his emotions.

History was made, with the first individual Olympic gold for India.

“I was trying to concentrate on shooting well. Wasn’t thinking about making history. Being two points behind, I had to shoot good. My coach asked me to be aggressive and that is what I did,” said Abhinav.

“I was trying to concentrate on shooting well. Wasn’t thinking about making history. Being two points behind, I had to shoot good. My coach asked me to be aggressive and that is what I did,” said Abhinav Bindra.   -  AP

 

The world champion had wiped out the memories of Athens, with a final score of 104.5, that was in stark contrast to the 97.6, four years earlier.

“I had shot better in Athens. Today, it went my way. That is sport,” Abhinav stressed.

It was the only time in my memory that I was writing the Sportstar report, before writing the daily report for The Hindu, by staying back at the shooting range.

The autograph of Lanny Bassham, an Olympic champion, on his book, With Winning In Mind, sprang up in memory. Bassham had written, “To Abhinav, the Future Olympic champion,” while signing. Abhinav had reached out to him nearly 10 years earlier for mental training, and sent me the autographed book by courier, when I wanted to read it!

Of course, there was celebration as Manisha Malhotra, heading the Mittal Champions Trust, organised a lunch with Abhinav for two of us, next day. When I left the range with Abhinav for lunch in a taxi, Amit Bhattacharjee gave me Abhinav’s ‘Good luck card’, which had a bunch of names, including mine. It was good to be reminded about one’s small role played over the years, in the champion’s journey.

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Later, when we went for an exclusive photo shoot for Shanth Kumar of Deccan Herald, it was a sight to watch the Chinese kids on the streets, taking photos with Abhinav. It had started with the hotel staff greeting Abhinav and taking photos with him, even though he had shattered the Chinese dreams. The China Daily’s Olympic special had him big on the front page.

What was indelibly fresh was Abhinav’s words, 20 days earlier, when he talked about his Olympic preparation from Germany.

“Am starting to back myself and my beliefs, and doubt my doubts,” he had said.

In that short article we had started with the line, ‘Two years ago he battled a career-threatening back problem to become the world champion in air rifle. Now, he is ready to beat the strong Chinese and the rest of the world to become the Olympic champion’.

Sometimes, it is interesting to go back in time, and read history, despite being a witness!