At the Rio Olympics, when Abhinav returned empty handed, the nation salivated for a sob story of a star finally going into eclipse. But the rabble hardly knew the lengths Bindra had gone just to get to the Olympics. Despite being ranked outside the top 15, to reach the final was an achievement in itself.
Yet, in the final, Abhinav gave India 60 minutes of thrilling television. The nation swelled in hope as he rose from eighth to fourth. Then he squeezed the trigger for one last time. In moments it was all over. “It was after pressing the trigger for that last shot, I realised it was time. This was the last time. I had thought about it a year back, but then to live that moment was something else. One world was closing on me,” Abhinav was saying today.
Having come to give the inaugural Rutledge lecture, organised by sports historian Boria Majumdar, Abhinav was not holding back. “I met him some months before Rio. We were talking and then I saw his hands shake. I asked him what was wrong. He said he was nursing this neurological issue for two years now. To fight a trembling hand, the mental trauma it carries and ending barely fourth, speaks volumes about this man,” Boria was saying.
But the moment the final had concluded in Rio, he was asked on live television, ‘how does it feel to be fourth.’ The nation missed the point completely. They missed his obsession for being the best. They missed his unputdownable spirit. They missed the discipline, science, structure and regime he had subjected his life to in this chase for glory.
This is the story of a man who rose above the middleclass aspirations and pushed the horizons of success. Heinz Reinkemeier, his coach for 16 odd years, had said India is behind the world by half a century in all sports, so while others played a sport to get an Olympic gold, qualifying was enough for someone from India.
So when Abhinav’s father had asked him the first time they met, was it possible to make his son an Olympic Champion, he had said “It’s impossible.” That is exactly what Abhinav had done.
Later during a chat I was telling him I have just finished reading his book “A Shot at History”–Revised and Updated, he said: “A new edition is coming up with two chapters. It will have in great details my fight with my ailment as I set out trying to qualify for Rio.”
In between his lecture and television interviews, Abhinav kept on obliging the motley gathering with selfies while high-tea was being laid in the next room. He obliged everyone; even the ones who wanted the second selfie because the first had not come out well. I caught up with him again and in between the cell phone flashes, we carried on. Did he ever think that he had it in him to win the gold? “Yes, I knew I could do it in Beijing. It was about using all the techniques and science and art that I had harnessed to my advantage in an alien country to perfection on that imperfect day. I knew I could do it,” he said.
Actually he writes about it in his book in the chapter Beijing: Mission Possible– “Discovery arrives in the strangest places. On the afternoon of 25th July 2008, I knew I could win gold in Beijing. I knew this while standing alone, at the top of a 40-foot pole in Munich, harassed by the wind and assaulted by fear. I knew because I had taken a leap of faith.”
But when did he first realise that he had it in him to be at the top. “Well that happened long back at Sydney. I had finished 10th. I was only 18. But I knew I had it in me to win an Olympic gold. It was like destiny. And the search began. The case started,” he said, as he walked up to sign a couple of books and grant a few autograph hunters their wishes.
It was actually good to see Abhinav Bindra the sports ace so effortlessly slipping into the shoes of a businessman and sports administrator. He fielded questions on India’s hope in Tokyo and gender equality being included in the Olympic movement with equal sassiness. He walked the tight rope and walked fine.
He was talking about the science of sport and how SAI and government were slowly waking up to the consciousness that we had slept big time and the world has gone past us. I had one last question to ask him. Abhinav how challenging was it to get champions out of a country where the majority still finds it an Olympic battle to put food on the table. He was giving an autograph to a young lady. He finished it, looked up and said: “That is the challenge my friend. That is the real challenge.”
As he walked out I wandered into the adjacent room for a cup of tea and overheard the conversation between two waiters. First one: “Who is this young man with Boria sir?” Second one: “He is a shooter.” First one: “So is he a player like Sachin?” Second one: “No, but he is a player in the Olympics.”
A man came and asked for tea and they got busy. I chuckled and walked away realising what an impossible task it is in a country like India even to dream of an Olympic glory.