Imagine the magnitude of doubt that must have crept in when Bindra shot a mere four as his first shot in the men’s 10m air rifle final in 2008. Imagine the negativity that can surround an athlete in that moment. Imagine the helplessness. Imagine the questions. Imagine the inability to find answers to those questions. Imagine all that. And then put his last shot (a 10.8 to win gold) next to that, to find perspective. In India, Bindra epitomizes that as well – the art of finding perspective when the odds are against you.
No one had done it before. Rajyavardhan Rathore’s double trap shooting silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics bettered the bronze-medal feats of KD Jadhav (1952, wrestling), Leander Paes (1996, tennis) and Karnam Malleswari (2000, weightlifting). But the gold eluded all those individual medal winners before Bindra.
Bindra left nothing to chance before arriving in Beijing – his third Olympics. He finished 11th at Sydney in 2000 and seventh at Athens in 2004. He wanted to continue that climb up the standings. He wanted to be among the medallists, and he ended up standing on top of the podium.
As part of a special conversation with TimesofIndia.com, Bindra opened up about his memories of winning the gold medal in 2008, which became one of the biggest watershed moments in Indian sports and what the biggest legacy of his till date unparalleled achievement in India is and how he managed to get back on track in that final in 2008 after a disastrous start.
More satisfaction than any gold medal could give me. The day I had my self respect !! https://t.co/rNsk7AKPOt
— Abhinav A. Bindra OLY (@Abhinav_Bindra) 1565358117000
If we go back to that day in Beijing in 2008, what’s the one thing that you remember the most about that day?
I think I look back, of course, at the outcome, which was a defining one for me, one of the best possible outcomes that I could have got. But it was a day when I went into the competition completely detached from the outcome and with an open mindset. I went into the competition with the ability to adapt.
There were several things that happened, which required constant adaptability. For example, before the final, my sights went out of sync. But what I really remember was my ability to remain focused, not question myself, not get distracted by whatever was going on around me.
All this energy, which was now simply saved by (a) not questioning myself and (b) not being distracted by what’s going on around me, effectively became focused. I went in as a secure person, as a secure athlete, because I was a winner even before the start of competition, I was a winner in my own eyes.
I asked myself the question a few nights before my Olympic competition: Had I done everything humanly possible to prepare for Beijing? The answer was yes. That gave me a great degree of security because I had won in my own eyes even before I competed at the Games.
So there was a secure athlete who was competing, an athlete who was living from one moment to the other really focused on the moment of one shot at a time. The qualification was 60 shots and the final was another 10 shots. That effectively meant I had 70 competitions to compete in. So it was one shot at a time and trying to be the best that I could be every single moment, every single shot. That is what I look back at with great fondness and, of course, the outcome was the best possible that I could have.
(Photo Courtesy: Abhinav Bindra’s Twitter handle)
How did you pull yourself back from a poor start in the final?
I pulled myself back very simply — by not resisting the situation. Of course, when my first shot was a four, it was disbelief, it was resistance, it was unacceptance, what is going on, what has happened. But from one moment to the other, I accepted that situation. Okay, now we are in crisis, I have a four, what should I do?
So it was the ability to accept a hopeless situation that was unfolding in front of me. The moment I accepted it, I suddenly had more focus because now that energy was used to find a solution. The moment that acceptance came, I started fighting again, I started working again, I started putting my head into the game again, into finding a solution, because I needed a solution very quickly. Then I started to give all those clicks…then I had to do a mathematical calculation.
You looked back at your coach after the last shot. You wanted to be doubly sure…
I punched the air immediately after my 10.8…I looked back at my coach. wanting to just understand if there was a shoot-off…But there was an absolute thrill. I did not know I won the gold medal, but I knew that I had shot the 10 best shots of my life under the greatest amount of pressure that I could ever face in an Olympic final. When I wanted to be the absolute best version of myself, I was able to bring that version of myself in the view of the entire world. So that was a great thrill of achievement.
Of course on that particular day, I was very fortunate that my effort was good enough to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games…That’s what happiness was all about, to find that pleasure in your ability that, yes, you’ve been able to execute what you trained all your life for.
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What was the most important change your gold medal brought about in Indian sports according to you?
That’s a hard one to answer for me, who was involved in the achievement. But I think what it did was it brought in a great amount of belief in our athletes. It increased their aspirations. I grew up in a generation where there was certainly a degree of defensiveness in mindsets because nobody had won an (individual) gold medal, but what clearly changed from one moment to the other was the aspirations of our athletes and the belief that those aspirations are achievable.
That, I think, was the greatest change that I saw; and if at all there is any legacy to my achievement, I would classify that as its biggest legacy, that athletes suddenly had the belief they could do it because one of their own had done it. That aspiration of just wanting to be at an Olympics suddenly changed to actually having the great desire and the belief to back it up by winning a gold medal at the Olympics.
In your last Olympic appearance at Rio 2016, you missed the bronze medal by a whisker. What exactly do you think didn’t click at that time, which it did in 2008?
I came fourth at the Rio Olympics not because of what clicked or what did not click. I finished fourth at Rio simply because I was not good enough for third or better. That is what the matter of fact is. It was a great effort on my part and I’m incredibly proud of what I was able to achieve in Rio, but the difference on that particular day was that there were three more persons who were slightly better than me.