Eye for detail remains his big advantage

RAJEEV BHATT

The fastidious Abhinav Bindra tells Rohit Brijnath that he’s going to try and find a new route to a medal in London 2012.

Abhinav Bindra is not familiar with the idea of halfway. He’s never been friends with average. His vocabulary doesn’t include the word haphazard.

How do we know this? It’s a long story.

India’s first and only individual Olympic gold medallist has just recommitted himself to another Olympic quest. He took a while doing it because he deliberates longer than Obama pauses between sentences. He wanted to be sure he wanted it, that another gold meant something, that it could be interesting.

This is a fastidious man. During one of the World Cups before the Olympics, he forced himself to stay up late at night, deliberately disturbing himself. He was simulating the sleepless night he might encounter at the Olympics because of the pressure. Turned out to be a good idea because he didn’t sleep at all before his Olympic final.

All his thinking life, Bindra’s been on a mission and he carries the intensity of a missionary walking into some forbidden South American jungle. “I wanted to prove a point,” he says. But not to anyone, but “to myself. That I can do it. That I can perform to my best on the day that counts.”

He proved it in Beijing 2008.

London 2012 will be meaningful to him, just not in the same way. He’s willing to chase another gold but it will have to be an altered adventure: he needs to find new ways to train, new ways to motivate himself. Athletes need stimulation, a buzz, a sense of newness, it’s why even after winning they switch coaches, or, like Michael Phelps did after Athens, relocate to a new city. The chlorine was the same but it smelled like a different challenge.

What Bindra’s doing is trying to get to the same destination, Olympic gold, but using a new route. “One motivation is to try and improve performance in a scientific way, to do different things like the neuro-feedback I did (he sort of mapped his brain during training last time around). It’s about new ways to make myself a better shooter, it’s what keeps me interested.”

And this is where we return to the beginning, about why halfway, and average, and haphazard, are not his style.

Because if you want to be shining, brilliant, best-damn-shooter-I-can-be kind of guy, then you have to be obsessive, intense, possessed. Like Lance Armstrong weighing his food down to the last gram.

It’s why Bindra’s been sitting on the Internet like some intrepid explorer, surfing, reading, looking for anything that might assist his quest.

“I’m all Google-ed out,” he laughs, and says, hey, if you know any sport scientists let me know.

But did you find anything? I did, he says. An insole sensor. An insole sensor?

He hears my incredulation about this Rs. 20 lakh piece of equipment that he’s not buying but will probably try. “It apparently gives real-time information about how much pressure the different parts of my foot are putting.” And just in case you were wondering, for a stand-up shooter balance is everything.

So what else. Well, for starters he’s Lasiked his eyes finally. He’s got a chiropractor aligning his bones, presumably for posture.

While he’s talking about all this, in his drier-than-a-Bond-Martini voice, I’m grinning. Because of almost all athletes I know, he’s the most intriguing, his attention to detail is the most staggering (maybe only Vishy Anand prepares better). Recently, at a symposium on youth and change organised by an Indian magazine, Bindra had to give a speech, and he didn’t just walk in and bluster. He worked on his speech for three weeks. Read it out to himself six-seven times to ensure it was exactly 10 minutes. Ensured his reading of it had some rhythm and practised it, he says laughing, “in front of the mirror in the bathroom so nobody could listen.”

Bindra is just wired this way, he’s a perfectionist, his instinct is to be thorough, he’s almost programmed to produce a polished product, even if it’s something he’s not known for like speaking. “I want to give it my best,” he explains, “so I go about it methodically.” It’s how victory comes.

He’s at that point now that when people invite him to give a speech, he’s the one pestering them. On what? For how long? What sort of audience will be there?

With a drawling modesty, he says: “I have to prepare because I’m not talented.” It’s when I tell him, maybe preparation is a talent.