Shooting his way to stardom

Published : Jul 07, 2001 00:00 IST


HE is young, fearless and has all the traits of a world champion. In returning the second best score, close to the previous world record, in an intensely competitive field in the World Cup in Munich, air rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra emphasised that he had made huge strides.

The 18-year-old Chandigarh lad, who had missed qualifying for the final by one point in the Sydney Olympics where he was the youngest shooter, failed to grab the gold this time again by one point.

There was a phenomenal improvement in his score when competing at the highest level, as he shot a 597 out of 600 in going into the final, and a spectacular 103.5 thereafter to aggregate 700.5 points, a mere 0.2 behind the world record that had stood till Leif Steinar Rolland of Norway shot 702.4 in the World Cup in Seoul a few weeks earlier.

The fact that it took two people - Leif Steinar Rolland himself and Jian Qiuof China - shooting a 701.5 to deny the honour of better medals for Abhinav showed the level with which the young man was challenging the world. The Chinese had shot a brilliant 104.5 in the final but lost out to the Norwegian, as the latter shot a 9.6 to a 9.1 in the shoot-off to decide the gold, after a tie.

Abhinav could have fancied his chances for the gold but for trailing by one point behind Rolland who had shot a 598 in the preliminary phase. Moreover, Abhinav had a 9.6 eighth shot as compared to the 10.5 and 10.6 by the other two in the final that tilted the balance.

Yet, for someone who had missed the bronze medal by 0.1 point in an earlier championship at the same venue, it was satisfying for Abhinav to have taken the bronze with a 1.0 lead this time against the fourth-placed Robert Kraskowski of Poland, who had also shot a 103.5 in the final.

What was more spectacular about Abhinav's effort was his series of four 100s with his last 40 shots in the preliminary stage. Once he finished the first 50 shots and had tallied 497, Abhinav knew that he needed a perfect 10 with each of his last 10 shots for the junior world record, which he himself had equalised last time.

Abhinav achieved the task, as he shot his fourth 100 nonchalantly to put the world junior record against his name, after having shared it with others earlier. The young Indian surprised everyone by shooting his 60 shots in 44 minutes, as against the allotted time of one hour and 45 minutes. It calls for guts to do that while competing with 105 others from 67 countries.

It was even better in Milan, when he finished in 33 minutes! Abhinav sets too hot a pace, rather intimidates the field.

The national chief coach, Prof. Sunny Thomas, asked Abhinav to go for the world record, in an attempt to provide adequate pressure required for the climax. Though Abhinav observed that it would be difficult to go for the record after a 597, he took the field apart with his outstanding effort.

Like all champions Abhinav thrives on pressure. He has a clear idea about the benefits of being under pressure.

"Pressure is a great thing. You can never have a top performance without any pressure. It is absolutely necessary. It has to be the right amount, though. It is like air and water. Too much is bad and too little is bad too," Abhinav had said earlier while discussing the subject.

Moreover, the series of competitions over many weeks in Europe and the systematic training with Heinz Renkemeir and Gaby Buehlmann in Germany had helped Abhinav draw the right strategy for the occasion.

"The training had helped me a lot, and the idea was to be more aggressive," said Abhinav, quite happy with the way things turned for the better after he had a harrowing time with his rifle in the first World Cup of the season, in Atlanta.

Though the gun shot nicely in the World Cup in Milan, it was in bad shape two days before the World Cup in Munich. Abhinav had trouble with the trigger-assembly of his world-class Walther gun, but set things right in time, and pushed aside all trouble to shoot his best. In Atlanta, the gun was malfunctioning, resulting in a 590, as he missed six points in the last two series with three bad shots, of eight each.

In the World Cup in Milan, Abhinav shot a series of six 99s, and all those six were 9.9. It could have so easily been 600 out of 600, but Abhinav had to be content finishing sixth in Milan with a total of 696.2. The gold went at 699.2 then.

It was clear indication that the young lad was touching his peak, and the following week showed that it was a true assessment.

"The way he is shooting, he is capable of winning anything, anywhere in the world," said the secretary general of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), who has been following the young man very closely in the last few years ever since he caused a stir in a competition in Chandigarh with a 600 out of 600.

Abhinav shot better than 700.5 once before, and that was in the national championship of Luxembourg earlier in the season. He, in fact, beat the existing record of 700.7 by a considerable margin, shooting a 702.2, as he had a 598 in the preliminary stage and a 104.2 in the final. Of course, that record was not to be ratified, but the day is not far when Abhinav will have the world record against his name.

There are hardly a handful of Indian sportspersons, in all disciplines, who have as much talent, intelligence, maturity of thought and to top it all, work as hard as Abhinav does.

The disappointment of Atlanta upset him so much that Abhinav virtually locked himself up in his home-range in Chandigarh for days together, setting things right. Even otherwise, he works for eight hours a day, giving himself different targets every time, simulating difficult match-situations.

It is tough to train alone, especially so as the lad has been in the sport for just about four years, but the attraction of shooting on electronic targets at home makes him work on his improvement, all alone, while the rest have no option but to be content aiming at the paper targets in national camps.

For Abhinav, training is life. He works diligently at peaking at the right time. He put his heart and soul in the preparation for the Olympics, but had a tough time in the build-up phase in Sydney, and thus eventually could not live up to his standard then.

Maybe a medal in the Olympics, which he was very much capable of winning, would have made the young shooter feel satisfied. Maybe, destiny has designed things in such a way that Abhinav achieves the maximum.

"I am very motivated, hungry, shooting well and feeling great about life and my sport. I will go ahead and shoot good scores, despite all the drawbacks. I am working as hard as anybody in the world, and with some brushing up and God's grace there are bound to be some good scores. I am patient. I know my efforts will bear fruit," said Abhinav, before leaving for the World Cup tournaments in Milan and Munich.

For someone so young, Abhinav has tremendous intensity of focus, which is so well backed up by financial support from his doting father, Dr. A. S. Bindra.

The senior Bindra has been spending enormous money in a bid to provide the best support to his son, though he has been a bit disillusioned about the lack of matching support from the Government and corporate sector.

The demand of the Bindras is not much. They want coaching support and little else. There is approval from the Government for Abhinav to train for 45 days at a stretch, thrice a year, in Germany, and that most of the expenditure would be borne by the Government. Though there has not been much coming from the Government so far, in contrast to the promises, the present success should make it that much easy for Abhinav, especially in the light of the identification of a Russian rifle coach for the national team.

Quite admirably, the Bindras have not spared anything till now. There have been stints with Lanny Bassham, the former Olympic champion and two-time world champion, towards building mental toughness. In presenting his book, With winning in mind, Lanny Bassham wrote, "To Abhinav, future Olympic champion," before autographing the book on mental management system.

Three years is a long period, but there is no doubt that Abhinav will keep the competitive fire within, in crackling form, to stake his claim in Athens. It is for the authorities to provide him the right support, for few in this country have the qualities that this young man has, in such abundance.

The Commonwealth Championship in Bisley, England, in August, will be the next stop for Abhinav to showcase his expertise. Till then, he can relax and concentrate on his business management course in college.

Of course, the real challenge for Abhinav will be in the World Championship next year, and to a lesser extent in the Asian Games. In fact, it will be Abhinav Bindra who will be challenging the rest of the world with his class act - fast and precision marksmanship.

The present achievement is brilliant, but the best is yet to come!

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