So far, we have presented you many a stories with the Indian flavour in our special edition that observes the 120 years of the Olympic Games with some 120 stories from the pages of its glorious history. In today’s episode, we bring you the story of perhaps the most decorated Indian Olympian ever – the ace shooter Abhinav Bindra.
Though India has been a regular to the Games since 1924, apart from hockey – which won six consecutive gold medals between 1928 and 1956 – India never even came close to winning a gold medal in any of the individual discipline. In fact by the turn of the century, those proud sticks of our hockey players had taken a drastic beating – India’s last medal coming in the form of a gold in the boycott-hit 1980 Moscow Games – not to say that the country had accustomed itself to at best winning a bronze in consolation as won by Leander Paes or Karnam Malleswari. Till the moment Abhinav Bindra struck gold with his final shot, the best Indian solo Olympics performance came last time in Athens from another shooter – Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
Coming back into the story, the Delhi-born Abhinav Bindra came from a well-to-do Punjabi family which helped him with an indoor shooting range at his own residence. Or in other words, he just did not have to hanker after standard equipments or proper trainings or any issues that had to do with something than just talent or perseverance – which is financial. With just a month shy of 18, the teenager Bindra became the youngest Indian to qualify for the millennium Games at Sydney. However as fate would have it, the youngster finished 11th in qualifiers and had to pack his bags before the finals.
However 2 years later, Bindra – already a recipient of the highest Indian sports honour – struck his first major gold at the Commonwealth Games and with that it became a routine for him to pick another three yellow medals from the event in successive quadrennials. In the Athens Olympics, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna awardee started brightly in the preliminary rounds where he set an Olympic record and was 3rd in the initial standings to the finals. However a poor series with just a score of 97.6, the Indian had to finish at 7th.
Now let’s fast forward the story to 11th August, 2008 in Beijing.Abhinav Bindra, at that time, was at his peak – having won the ISSF World Shooting Championships two years back. However, this time the qualifiers were not that great as that of Athens – the “golden fingers” hit 596 for 4th which was both a point and a place behind of the start that he got four years back. But again, it is the slow and steady that wins the race and the same age-old maxim started materializing for Bindra when he scored a magnificent 104.5 in the final round to pip both his final round rivals to clinch the top honour. In the finals, the Delhite did hit anything but one lesser than a 10.0.
Coming into more details from the watershed moment in India’s sports history, though it took just 3 rounds into the finals for the Indian to overtake the Chinese Zhu Qinan and maintain the lead till the end, but the game was more of a see-saw between Bindra and Henri Häkkinen of Finland. At the start of the 10th and final round from where the shooters only have a trigger-on for the match, the scoreboard read Bindra and Häkkinen tied on 689.7 with Qinan a further 0.5 points behind. In the last shot, Bindra made 10.8 and gold while Häkkinen wilted under pressure to register a poor 9.7. Qinan however gained from this and took silver with a 10.5.
The champion whose autobiography goes by the title of “A Shot at History: My Obsessive Journey to Olympic Gold” pondered on calling it a day after all the adulation that he received post his Olympic glory – which is undoubtedly the greatest high in the career of any athlete and of course, difficult to replicate. But then he made two more Olympics – though neither with the same impact as that at Beijing as far as the end results are concerend. At London, he finished a dismal 16th in a field where there was another Indian – Gagan Narang – who went all the way to clinch a bronze eventually. However, one felt a lot for him at his Rio campaign months back when after being in the medal contention for long, his steel nerves betrayed him as he bowed out in the 3rd place shoot-out to the eventual silver medalist Serhiy Kulis.
At Rio, Bindra qualified on 7th for the finals where just two rounds prior to his elimination, he was among the top 3 – owing to his red hot form in the initial rounds of the summit showdown. But soon after that, two poor back-to-back rounds brought about his downfall and with that pulled the curtains down on the career of one of the greatest Indian sportsperson of all time. Post retirement, the BBA graduate from the University of Colorado aims to churn out more champions like himself under his own patronage.
Photo by public.resource.org