Some toil for a place under the sun and some are born great. In his case the crown was thrust upon him, for he never aspired for one in the first place. “I hated sports,” confesses Abhinav Bindra, who lifted a gun, shot and became an Olympic champion – the first in the country’s history.
Yet, Bindra did not even exult when the moment arrived. For him, it seemed a ritual. But it was an unprecedented happening in a country where champions are a rare product; virtually non-existent when it comes to Olympic glory. India’s cricket icon Rahul Dravid lavishly acknowledged Bindra’s cool demeanour. “Phenomenal,” Dravid gushed even as Bindra blushed!
Shooting was not Bindra’s first choice. He attempted golf and then tennis. Having failed at both, he pursued shooting, and progressed at a rapid pace to reach the pinnacle of every sportsman’s dream. He has carried the sport of shooting from the realm of the rich to the masses. He has given sporting hope and dignity a new meaning by ‘shooting’ his way to stardom and greatness at mere 26.
Any fond memories of childhood? “The first 11 years of my life I just hated sports. I never watched and never played sports in schools. My parents always encouraged me to play sports though.” At the boarding school, Bindra received a letter from his affluent father every second day. “Never mind if you don’t study but play sports,” was one sentence that was common.
Shooting now is a “way of life” for the suave Bindra. He agrees, “For the common man, it is a sport hard to understand.” Even the world body is struggling to make it spectator friendly but the finals, it must be admitted, are always exciting because of the intense competition.
Bindra smiles when you ask him if sport is only about winning? “You can’t win all the time. For me personally what is important is how I perform. The pressure is maximum but I test myself and see how far I can stretch myself. One has to keep challenging oneself. There is always room for bettering yourself and your performances. Your goal has to be result-oriented and that’s why winning a medal is very important.”
What separates a champion from the rest? “I think it is the ability to keep testing yourself and hang in there a bit more.” That is what separates. It depends on the individual’s ability to try harder and to “survive those critical moments to face the pressure.” The nervousness, Bindra stresses, is not a comforting feeling and everyone wants to get rid of that feeling as early as possible. “I prepare very hard mentally and physically.”
For Bindra, an Olympic gold was always a dream. “We would come close and miss. The expectations were different.” True, there was a certain mystique attached to an Olympic gold medal in India. But he changed it. “When I started any colour mattered. Now it’s happened and with that I think the outlook has also changed. Now everyone wants a gold medal. It is not elusive anymore.”
Expectations in India have always remained high. Bindra notes, “A sportsman has his own expectations. The external expectations don’t matter to a sportsman. He knows what to expect from himself. To me, values and perspective make a huge impact. Winning to me is not important but I hate losing.”
A toast of the nation, Bindra is very “proud” to be an Indian. “We are an emerging super power and a peace-loving community. Everybody likes us, our values, and our development in all spheres of life.”
Bindra loves the company of sportspersons. “They give me a lot of joy. I believe Indian sportspersons are an extremely talented group. They have extremely good work ethics.” But what concerns him is the lack of proper planning. “To compete against the best in the world we need to have a clear plan in place, a clear objective, clear goal. Other nations are developing at a fast pace and are far ahead of us in every aspect.”
Having travelled far and wide, Bindra has a few suggestions to offer to improve the state of sports in India. “Infrastructure is the key. Commonwealth Games is a fine opportunity to build a sports culture in the country and generate interest in sports outside cricket but I don’t necessarily believe in hosting these major events. I would rather spend the money and build infrastructure in smaller places all across India. More and more people should have access to facilities,” concludes Bindra, an epitome of humility.