Abhinav Bindra — one of a kind

Our country is fortunate to have an Abhinav Bindra, who got out of his comfortable shell to carve a path of excellence that gives hope, strength and belief to all other sportsmen that they are very much capable of winning an Olympic medal if they really want to.

Abhinav Bindra competes in the men's 10m air rifle qualifying round at the Rio Olympics. The Indian, who won the gold in Beijing 2008, progressed to the final where he narrowly missed the bronze medal.   -  PTI

Once in a while in sport, there comes a person who challenges existing practices, defies logic and sets new benchmarks on way to becoming a legend. Abhinav Bindra has been that person in the Indian Olympic Movement.

I remember sharing a room with this 15-year-old introvert kid during the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games. Little did I know that inside that quiet and peaceful self was an insatiable desire to achieve excellence and Olympic glory. In retrospect, he had only one goal — Olympics. No Commonwealth or Asian Games mattered to him; neither did the World Cups. He used these competitions as stepping-stones to success in the Olympic Games — something that requires pure and single-minded focus.

 

People from different walks of life do have big ambitions and great visions, but the smaller achievements that bring name, fame and money do tend to satisfy most of them. But not Abhinav. He became the World Champion in 2006 and Olympic Champion in 2008, but won his only individual gold in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 (Glasgow). Similarly, he won his only individual bronze medal in the Asian Games in 2014 (Incheon). What fascinates me more is the fact that he made it to the final in three out of his five Olympic appearances, and let’s not forget he was only 17 during his first Olympics and was selected as a wild card. This is a phenomenal record and boasts of his ability to peak when it matters the most — a skill that eludes most Indian sportsmen.

Everyone knows the good side of sport — the victories and the medals — and it makes people think that victory comes naturally and easily to a lucky few. Nobody actually talks about the kind of effort that goes into winning a medal, even at a National championship, let alone an Olympic Games. Sometimes I hear people say that Abhinav is very rich and has access to the best of facility and technology, and that is the reason for his success. But my question to those people is: yes, he had the money to buy a treadmill of his own, but finally he had to get out of his cosy bed and actually run on it for hours. That is how he could get his resting heart-rate down. People say, ‘Oh, Abhinav can shoot between his heartbeats; that is his secret of success’. But has anyone ever wondered the kind of work he would have had to put in to get such precise control?

One of Abhinav’s biggest strengths has been his ability to criticise himself and find faults with himself. He doesn’t blame his equipment or weather. He does not leave anything to chance. He will try anything and everything that he believes can improve his performance.

Whether it is experimenting with his equipment until he gets it exactly how he wants or trying some new physical training equipment, Abhinav will try them all so that there is no doubt remaining. He has done immense work in the sports science department, which until some time ago was referred to as mental training. The world has introduced sport to science and Abhinav has kept himself updated.

He had his own share of trouble with our bureaucracy, but Abhinav didn’t crib about it. When he realised the Indian system of sport could not help him improve, he went out into the world looking for people who could make him a champion. He preferred to act than blame the system. And as his performances improved, the government did its bit to fund him. But funds alone did not make him a champion. It was his desire to become a champion that saw him get everything he wanted to excel.

Abhinav has his team of professionals in Germany, where he is usually based before major competitions and is known to train with the Germans and the Italians. But if an Indian junior shooter ever went up to him for an advice or simply a picture, he would very warmly oblige. Abhinav is an extremely gentle human being and is very grounded. He knows how much he had to toil and so appreciates others based on their efforts, not the result. This is something we as a society need to learn, to put in our best and be proud of the efforts we put in.

Coming from a very wealthy family, it is beyond reason for a rich kid to actually give up his comfortable life and go through the rigours that have cost him his physical well-being — a back with which he can continue to shoot only after taking pain-killer injections. But whatever were his reasons, I feel our country is fortunate to have an Abhinav Bindra, who got out of his comfortable shell to carve a path of excellence that gives hope, strength and belief to all other sportsmen that they are very much capable of winning an Olympic medal if they really want to.

Now that he has decided to hang up his boots, I can only hope that our government and society will be humble enough to take some lessons from this champion and use his knowledge to improve the existing state of affairs in sport.

The Indian government has started spending liberally on sport unlike in the past, but Abhinav can help them spend on the right things. What he can bring to our system is a model of excellence and efficiency. He has won most of the individual medals that shooting has to offer, but what will be better is if Abhinav can help produce more Abhinavs. That would be something greater than the gold medal he had won in the Olympics.

(The writer, an Arjuna Award winner, is the vice president of the National Rifle Association of India)