Abhinav Bindra: Gold medal is not everything in life

The shooter believes that he sacrificed his mental peace to achieve the men’s 10-metre air rifle gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Shooter Abhinav Bindra in conversation on Athletes and Mental Health during Symposium on The Sports Law and Policy at Bangalore International Centre.   -  V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Winning the men’s 10-metre air rifle gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was the crowning glory of Abhinav Bindra’s illustrious career, but it came at a cost. The shooter believes that he sacrificed his mental peace to achieve this success, and that "a gold medal is not everything in life". Bindra spoke at a discussion titled ‘Athletes and mental health’, at the ‘The Sports Law & Policy Symposium', organised by LawNK and GoSports Foundation here on Saturday.

Bindra was joined on the panel by Sanjeev Jain, NIMHANS professor, and Anisha Padukone, golfer and director, The Live Love Laugh Foundation. The session was moderated by sports journalist Sharda Ugra.

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On the mental toll it took to achieve the gold medal dream, Bindra said, “I definitely would not do it over again, and I would not recommend my way to anybody else. I was very passionate about my sport, but I abused my passion. I had a single-minded focus, and while this approach got me success, it is not the right way to do it. A gold medal is not everything in life. I tell athletes that you can abuse talent and passion by not giving it anything, and you can also abuse it by giving too much. If you can find the right balance, you can deliver to the best of your ability."

The 36-year-old added, "I was very good in training, but I really hated competition because I put all my eggs in one basket. This led to a lot of anxiety. I used to shoot 5 points above the world record every day in training, but in a competitive environment, I wasn’t quite the same. I was not the best version that I could have been, which is a regret I have.”

Anisha, daughter of badminton legend Prakash Padukone, spoke about handling failure in the face of high expectations. “I grew up in a sporting family. Even though it was not explicitly stated, being
exceptional was an in-built, underlying emotion - right from performing menial tasks all the way to our professional careers. One of the challenges for me was to accept that it was okay to fail,” Anisha said.

Anisha explained that the The Live Love Laugh Foundation, founded by her sister and actor Deepika Padukone, aims to help de-stigmatise mental illness.

The erudite Sanjeev stated, “Most studies say that athletes generally have better mental health. As a group, athletes may not be prone to mental health issues, but they are in a position where even minor
things can have amplified effects. To impart the right treatment without impacting the athlete’s performance makes it a very delicate operation.”