‘Speculation about medals is unfair on the athletes'

Army chief Gen. V. K. Singh (left) conferring on Abhinav Bindra the honorary rank of Lt. Colonel in the Territorial Army.-PTI Army chief Gen. V. K. Singh (left) conferring on Abhinav Bindra the honorary rank of Lt. Colonel in the Territorial Army.

“In a sport like shooting one needs to be inward, so the extra attention (from the public) is a challenge,” says Abhinav Bindra. Over to Nandakumar Marar.

Abhinav Bindra owns something precious: an individual Olympic gold medal. So when the Beijing 2008 air rifle champion got into firing position on the 10m range at the 55th National Championships in Balewadi, shooters took in even the minute details. When he conversed with opponents prior to the competition, mostly India teammates or close friends, they hung on to every word.

Bindra duly won the 10m air rifle event and it was learnt that he was heading for Germany via Mumbai. Germany is a hotspot for shooting and Bindra spent time there with close associates in the preparatory phase for Beijing 2008. India's only individual Olympic gold medallist has his own training methods, calibrating critical aspects till he is convinced of results. We will know about the outcome of current experiments in equipment, ammunition, technique and psychology at London 2012.

Bindra secured a qualifying slot for India (quota place) in 10m AR at the 2011 Munich World Cup, won his pet event at the Balewadi Nationals with eight 10-plus scores (bullseyes) and is busy doing his own thing. He may not fall in line with the wisdom displayed by Indian officials. It doesn't matter, for the champ has shown us the way at Beijing.

Bindra's replies via e-mail from Germany to queries about his experiences at the Balewadi Nationals and after, shows that he is waiting and watching for the Indian sporting machinery to plot the correct course. A visit by coaching staff and few top shooters to an ammunition factory in Birmingham, for checking the ammunition, later to be used by those selected for the Olympics, is a positive sign.

Nine qualifying places are confirmed for London 2012 and more quotas could be won at the 2012 Asian Championships, setting the stage for the largest-ever Indian shooting contingent at an Olympics.

Excerpts from a chat with the Indian champion:

Question: An Olympic champion taking part in a National Championships creates a buzz. Are you okay with being the focus of attention as long as shooting also comes under the spotlight?

Answer: I have to detach myself from the extra attention and not give it any thought. In a sport like shooting one needs to be inward, so the extra attention is a challenge. I am happy how I dealt with the situation.

Has India changed as a nation after two back-to-back shooting medals from the Olympic Games (Rathore in Athens, your title in Beijing)? Are expectations of a larger medal haul at London 2012 from shooters realistic?

One can surely hope so, but one needs to be patient and see how things will unfold. Speculation about medals is unfair on the athletes.

Do you see an attitude change among the authorities (NRAI, Indian Olympic Association and Sports Ministry) after the Beijing gold? Do you feel they are showing a sense of understanding that each shooter is different, needs his own space?

To an extent. It is slow progress but at least there is some!

Indian sportspersons now believe that an Olympic gold medal is in the realm of probability. You broke a barrier at Beijing 2008. For youngsters on the Indian contingent dreaming of an Olympic title, what is your advice?

Work hard! It is not every four years, it is everyday!

Celebrities from other vocations taking an active part in popularising Olympic disciplines are rare. Your view on Nana Patekar's passion for shooting?

It is nice to see Nana (Patekar) enjoy the sport and be passionate about it. I met him for a very short time for the first time before my final (10m air rifle).

The Indian armed forces have a huge presence in shooting. Your experiences with our soldier-shooters? How did you feel when the Indian Army decided to confer an honorary Lieutenant Colonel rank on you?

I am very humbled and honoured by their decision to give me an honorary rank. There are lots of talented people in the army team. It is nice to see the army backing that talent.