How can you not admire Abhinav Bindra – the goldfinger of Indian sport, the man who made the country keenly follow the pulling of a trigger, the only one in a billion to top the Olympic podium? You see him, you’re automatically awed. And, so were the athletes gathered at the GoSports Athletes’ Conclave in Bengaluru on Friday.
Yet he, with his characteristic modesty, told the assembly of sportspeople – Devendra Jhajharia and Dipa Karmakar among them – to do anything but that. “I was a lalloo athlete,” he told the athletes, evoking in them a chuckle. “But I worked really hard.”
Suffering, he said, he learnt to enjoy. Struggle, he said, was present throughout his journey. Anxiety, he said, he came to accept. “In preparation for Beijing, I could not sleep.”
To succeed in Beijing, he was helped by the failure in Athens. A fault in the floor of the shooting range in the 2004 Olympics robbed him of a medal, broke his heart, and almost drove him to quit the sport. But the experience taught him to detach from outcomes.
“In sport, you can’t guarantee winning. So, to get involved with the process is more important,” he told the crowd of athletes, many of whom are eyeing glory at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games next year and at the Olympics, two years later in Tokyo.
“More than winning, the real joy for an athlete comes from the execution of their skills.”
Seeds of gold medal were sown in Sydney
Jhajharia, who struck gold twice at the Paralympic Games, wanted to know when Bindra believed that he could win an Olympic gold. The belief, Bindra replied, was sowed eight years before Beijing, in Sydney.
At 17, he was the youngest of the Indian contingent in the 2000 Games and finished 11th in the men’s 10m air rifle. The Sydney edition, he’s said before, is his favourite among the five Olympics that he’s been a part of.
“The performance in Sydney was the defining moment of my career. It gave me the confidence to compete at the highest stage. The belief that came with it caused something internally and was deep,” Bindra said in his reply to Jhajharia.
What can an athlete do when pressure strangles him/her during the competition, when anxiety suddenly makes an attack, when luck looks away? Misfortune has accompanied Bindra in most of his Olympic pursuits. In Athens, it was the faulty wooden floor.
In Beijing, he found out, minutes before the final, that his gun has been tampered with. In Rio, his gun fell down and its sight was shattered. “When my gun fell down and (my sight broke), I just laughed. What can I do about it? You can just give your best. In sport, it’s important to adapt. Whatever you prepare for, even if you’re taking into account all the variables, something will go wrong. You have to deal with it quickly and get on with whatever you have to do.”
The ease of training, he told a young rifle shooter, is tough to replicate during a tournament. Pressure, he said, will prevent the athletes from performing with ease during competition. “Pressure is actually important. You have to work with pressure. When you use it in a positive way, it gives you a bit of an edge. But you have to accept it. Don’t try to resist it.”
Facilities paramount to success
For an athlete to be a champion, Bindra said, he or she needs the best of facilities to train. “When I started 20 years ago, there was not much available in India. But I think that is slowly progressing. We have a lot more facilities available now.”
“To train overseas is always going to be Plan B situation for athletes. I used to go abroad and access the facilities for two-three weeks, I would come home for five weeks. But all the athletes of the west had access to those facilities 365 days a year.
Giving that plan A option to the athletes is work in progress in our country. Things are developing. All the facilities, accessibility to those facilities must be available within the country.”
He also stressed on the importance of sports science: “Sports science is very important for elite athletes, it gives them extra 1% edge, it’s the difference between whether you finish fifth or win a bronze medal, difference between a gold and silver medal,” Bindra said.
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