Abhinav Bindra, fear, pizza pole and Olympic gold

Bindra: Pizza pole was an excellent experience as I was able to stretch the limits of my skill and endurance-something that is definitely required of an Olympic champion.

Abhinav Bindra’s insane search for perfection had pushed him to climb, as a simulation of sorts, a 40-feet high ‘pizza pole’ that saw him conquer his “fear” and go on to win a historic gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.Then 26, Bindra became the country’s first individual gold medallist at the quadrennial extravaganza. Days before he would script history, Bindra tried to conquer fear that could “grip” him during an Olympic final, by attempting his hand at what the German special forces normally do.

In a book titled ‘My Olympic Journey’ co-authored by journalists Digvijay Singh Deo and Amit Bose, Bindra said, “I had flown to Beijing from Munich. This was because a few days before leaving for the Olympics, I had decided to get out of my comfort zone and climb a pizza pole, also used by the German special forces. It is a 40-foot-high pole and becomes smaller as one nears the summit, with the platform at the peak the size of a pizza box.

“I started climbing and halfway up decided I could not go on. But this was precisely the reason for attempting the task. I had to conquer fear, fear that could grip me during an Olympic final. I was scared out of my wits even though I was hooked to safety wires. I pushed on and finally stood trembling at the top.” Bindra spoke as he recalled his exit at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens that left him in a state of shock.

However, it (pizza pole) was an excellent experience as I was able to stretch the limits of my skill and endurance-something that is definitely required of an Olympic champion.” As he was bracing up for the finals in 2008, Bindra said his mind went back to Athens after a poor shot in the warm-up.

“Before the final began, we had five minutes to warm up to shoot the ten most important shots of our life. My first shot in the warm-up was a 4. It was a great shock, and my mind immediately went back to Athens. The first shot in the final was a 10.7, pretty close to bullseye. My experience in the previous Olympics at Athens had taught me a lot about detachment, and I drew from it.

“I did not care whether I won the gold or not. The only concern was that I shoot well at the final. And as a result, those ten shots in Beijing were probably the best shots I have ever fired in my life. Even if I had not won a medal, there would have been no regret.

“My last shot was a 10.8. The perfect shot in shooting is 10.9. When I finished, I didn’t know the exact result, but somewhere at the back of my mind I was confident that I had done well. I had given it my all and was completely drained.” While he was extremely relieved and at peace with himself after standing on top of the podium, the hullabaloo around left him drained.

“When I finally won it eight years later, it was disastrous on a completely different level. Don’t get me wrong - I knew what I had achieved. I had even anticipated the hysteria that followed, but I did not want to have anything to do with it. I hated every moment of the ‘tamasha’ that followed. I could detach myself while shooting in Beijing, but I just could not detach myself when I came home.

“Those were difficult times for me. Quite frankly, I was ready to move on the moment I stepped off the podium. And I wish I had been able to as I would have been in better shape for the next Olympic Games. I needed time to recover, to recharge my batteries. The celebrations that followed were fantastic and quite touching, but I felt they were draining me out.” Calling London Olympics a major landmark in Indian sports, Bindra said the country needs long-term goals.

“Our goals cannot be short-term ones. We have to focus on the 2020 Games in Tokyo and beyond. If we are able to strengthen our grass roots, then I am convinced we can hope to bag more medals.” In Athens, Bindra shot 597 out of 600 in 10m air rifle qualification and broke the Olympic record. However, things went horribly wrong in the final. Bindra termed Rajyavardhan Rathore’s silver-medal winning effort at the same Games “path breaking“.

However, even as I struggled to comprehend what had gone wrong, there was a huge moment for Indian shooting and Indian sport. I was in the stands when Rajyavardhan Rathore won the silver medal in double trap. It was truly a path-breaking performance. I credit him for breaking the glass ceiling and becoming a pioneer for Olympic sports in India.”

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