Abhinav Bindra: ‘I believe in destiny’

Abhinav Bindra is the hottest news in Indian sport today. Kamesh Srinivasan caught up with the ace shooter soon after his epoch-making triumph in Beijing.

"I have always been inspired and motivated by the Olympic Movement and the spirit. I have always had the desire to excel on the world’s biggest stage."   -  getty images

bhinav Bindra is the world and Olympic champion. He is also a man of few words. Maybe, some of our other sportspersons should speak less and achieve more like him.

When he is with his family and a trusted circle of friends, he can open out, and be ribbed as well.

In fact, when he was posing on the roads of Beijing with the medal, Bindra was very keen that one of his staunch supporters, the former tennis champion Manisha Malhotra —who has been working hard to get the best support for him through the Mittal Champions Trust — should sport the medal. It was his way of expressing gratitude, and Manisha was pleased to hold the precious medal rather than wear it, as she had not won it herself.

>Abhinav Bindra: Athlete profile

An intense young man who has pursued his dream with great vigour, when he could have so easily enjoyed the pleasures of his affluent household, Bindra is indeed a brilliant role model.

He fought the best when everything was at stake. After the energy-sapping experience of the qualification series, Bindra had the shock of his life to find the ‘sight’ of his rifle altered before the final. His practice shots went totally off target.

The champion reacted to the situation with great courage, tuned his rifle back to its best behaviour, within a couple of minutes or so and fired the first competition shot bang on target, at 10.7. He wound up with a 10.8 shot and the gold medal.

He did not complain at any stage and looked only at the positive side of life. Unfortunately, people take just one look at him and jump to the conclusion that he is aloof and indifferent.

It was important to chat with India’s first Olympic individual gold medallist, so that everyone would understand him better.

Bindra has always cooperated with the Sportstar and even when he was totally exhausted with all the attention, the champion was willing to field questions with patience.

Excerpts from an interview in Beijing:

Question: How does it feel to be the Olympic champion?

Answer: I feel the same person. There is a feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment as it has been my goal for so many years. I am immensely proud about the accomplishment. But life goes on.

What has been your reaction to all the attention, the crowding and the constant invasion of your privacy?

It has been overwhelming, and hard at the same time. But I am trying to take it in my stride.

Do you feel that you have a tremendous opportunity to make shooting more popular as a sport by convincing the youngsters to take it up?

Yes I do. It is also a kind of responsibility that I have with the amount of interest that has been generated.

Has it been worth your effort and energy all these years?

Yes, it has been worth it. Even if I had not won, it would have been. The journey has been great and sport has made me learn about so many things in life.

What do you feel is the reason behind us not winning an individual Olympic gold till you did so?

I am also wondering why. But I think it is because of a non-existent Olympic programme.

What made you hunt for this Olympic medal?

I have always been inspired and motivated by the Olympic Movement and the spirit. I have always had the desire to excel on the world’s biggest stage.

This was the best final considering what was at stake. Which one comes close to this?

The 105.0 I shot in 2003 at Dortmund for a total of 704. That was the time when I was shooting my best.

When did you realise that you had won the gold? Did you calculate the scores during the final?

I got to know that I had won only when I went to Gaby (coach). I was so focussed that I had no idea what was going on around me.

You had not made any final in the season, then how did you shoot so well?

We do practise the final a lot in Germany during training. In fact, we have a strategy for the last shot, to shoot it quickly. I also had problems with a shiver of the arm while coming down with the rifle to the target and I had to really shoot quick. I was lucky to get it right.

How happy are you to be the World and Olympic champion at the same time?

It has been a dream to be the World and Olympic champion at the same time. It really can’t get better.

You are the ultimate champion in your event at the moment. Still, there are no guarantees for the next match. Is this what makes sport so addictive?

You are right. I am a hero today, but no one knows how it will go tomorrow. That is sport and that is the reality.

The World championship is practically the biggest. Do you agree that the Olympics is the hardest because of the aura around it?

The Olympics is great and can be intimidating. But, this time around I did not feel much different and shooting at the Games was so much within my comfort zone.

What was the reason behind the ‘9’ on the last shot in qualification?

I was nervous, but I went for it. Unfortunately, it was a 9.

Did you feel that it had made it more difficult for you, or did you love the challenge?

I was just happy to have crossed the first challenge of making the final and then was simply focussed on preparation and strategy.

Were you confident that you would beat the field in the final, despite being two points behind the leader?

I was confident of a great final.

Were you much worried about the ‘sight’ being altered? Can it happen accidentally?

I don’t know what happened. It doesn’t matter. But, yes, initially I thought something was broken and it was all over.

Do you feel that everything happened for the good and with a purpose?

Maybe it helped as I took my mind off the tension of the match. I believe in destiny and yes our lives are directed by destiny.

It must have given you a special kick to solve the problem and shoot a dream final, for a dream medal. It makes for a great story of the champion.

It cost me, and am sure Gaby, a lot of grey hair. It was frightening at the beginning but fortunately it worked out.

Are you ready to write a book on, ‘How to win an Olympic gold’, or ‘Want to beat the world?’

When I have the time I would like to share my experiences, but there is no magic or set formula. I believe that there are a 100 ways to Rome.

You were the best prepared. Was there a risk of being over-trained?

I believe that I was over-trained, but I have done that for the last so many years. Probably nobody in the world had prepared the way I did.

How did you retain the enthusiasm and hunger to be at your best in the Olympic Games, despite being over-trained?

Motivation has never been an issue. I wanted to show all those people, who did not believe in me and laughed at me, what I was capable of.

How was Gaby Buehlmann’s training different from what you had gone through earlier?

Gaby and her husband Heinz are great coaches and apart from that lovely people. It is great to be with them. They have so much knowledge about shooting. They know me so well and kept me in the right frame of mind in my preparation. Gaby’s training is a lot of fun. They make it enjoyable. It is not just shooting, like a machine.

You have been talking about the thin line between success and defeat. Are you happy to have mastered it on the big stage?

Looks like it!

Are the other competitions only a training ground for you, for the big events that come once in four years?

I have always looked at the World Cups and other matches as Olympic qualifiers. I have never had the motivation for these matches for some reason. I guess I am just lazy!

What was the initial feeling once you landed in China after the training in Germany?

Nothing special, I was just going with the flow, and living in the present.

How was the opening ceremony?

The opening ceremony was amazing. I actually did not go for it as it was close to my event. But I saw it with my coach Gaby at the athletes village.

Did you feel strong and happy on the morning of the Olympic match?

Yes, I felt strong and ready.

You have unravelled the mystery of winning an Olympic gold. It is a bit early, but how about winning more to make it look more easy?

It is hard to answer it at this stage. I have worked so hard for this and am so drained at the moment, I need a few months to start thinking.

What would you like to tell the youngsters who are aspiring to become champions in sport?

You have to believe in your dreams and go for them. Never give up and even if you fail it is okay, as long as you have given it your best shot.

It has been a hard pursuit for more than 10 years. How do you look back at the support?

My parents, my sister, my brother-in-law and his parents have been so supportive. It is really their victory.

You look disinterested with the people and the world. How would you assess and explain your personality?

It is not that I am disinterested. I have had so many people around me in my sport who never believed in me. So, I just had to keep away from that. I am a regular guy who was obsessed about being an Olympic champion!

How do you spend time when you are not punching holes on a sheet of black paper?

I love my dogs, like movies, the internet, chatting with friends and watching sport. I like painting and travelling.

Do you like playing any other other game?

I have had no time.

What do you want to achieve in spheres other than sports? How much do you like looking after your father’s business, or do you leave him to mind his business?

I don’t know what I want to achieve, but I want to help my dad in the business. He has worked so hard. If you think I worked hard you have no idea how much my dad has. If you think I have gone through the ups and downs, my dad has faced it all. He has always been so positive and has been such a fighter. It has been amazing to watch him. I want to help him so that he can relax.

What do you have to say about the Indian media?

Well, the Indian media has grown, but I would like all my friends in the media to learn more about Olympic sports. Be supportive of all the athletes, believe in us. Even if we lose, support us. Don’t dump us in the trash. You people have a very important role in an athlete’s development. So please take responsibilty.

How has your experience been with The Hindu and Sportstar?

I read The Hindu every morning, and the Sportstar every week. You have always covered sport well, especially shooting. So a big Thank You. Please keep it going.

(This article was originally published in the Sportstar issue dated August 30, 2008)