Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Abhinav Bindra: Hanging on to a dream
Every time I watch Abhinav Bindra on television I get goosebumps.
What an achievement!
And what a guy!!
First, the way he won the medal. Standing fourth when he qualified for the final round, Abhinav cracked a 10.7 out of 10.9 in the deciding shot, to win gold.
Second, the way he's handled the victory. No "Miss World' gasp. No whoop of joy. Just a contented half-smile.
What's more, he doesn't even look the role. With his quiet demeanour and spectacles and he could be the boy next door, preparing for an entrance exam.
You think of sportsmen as brawny heros. But Bindra's victory tells you, it's all in the mind.
Abhinav said he was not thinking about making history. Indeed, he said, he was "not thinking about anything". "I was just trying to concentrate on shooting."
That's what they call, being 'in the zone'. The Arjuna and the Eye of the Fish zone. Fark bas yeh hai idhar Draupadi ke bajay mila Olympic gold!
What a journey
Abhinav hopes his victory will change Indian sport. And the system, which atheletes struggle with in India, to reach heights in their chosen sport.
So how did Abhinav do it? I felt compelled to find out a bit more and some intensive google (re)search threw up this fascinating story...
First of all, how he got into the sport:
It was a slightly modified version of the William Tell Story. When barely seven Years of age, Abhinav Bindra asked one of his many domestic maids to place a bottle on her head. Then, from a distance of 10 meters, the lad too-young to know the portentous implication-took aim and fired his air gun. No harm was done to though. As in 14th century Swiss folklore, the shot found its target.
Father A S Bindra is the one who spotted this natural talent. Mr Bindra told ET: "His aim was so perfect that I couldn't think about anything else but make him a pro."
Luckily Mr Bindra not only had the belief in his son's talent but the resources to put into producing a champion. On NDTV tonight, we took a peep at the private shooting range in his home. Besides, the family invested in the best equipment, training, and international exposure.
And yet, it did not come easy. In 2001, in a poignant piece on rediff.com Rohit Brijnath noted:
If all goes well, and God lends a steadying hand, who knows, perhaps, maybe, one day down the line the kid could come home with an Olympic medal.
... It's not that the kid doesn't know his art. Ask him about shooting, and he'll give you a lecture about muscle tension, breathing control and trigger pressure...
It's not that the kid's a dreamer...
It's not that the kid's lazy...
It's just that the kid ( and his team, he emphasises) doesn't have a coach.
And needs to ask Dad to pay for most of his expenses. And has to travel everywhere alone, doing his own ticketing, and hotel bookings, and practise times, while remaining concentrated enough to shoot..
...The team's Hungarian coach Laszlo Szucsak, it is said, has gone to coach Japan because India couldn't afford to pay him US$500 or whatever more a month. But they can spend Rs 50 crore on hospitality for foreign athletes at the Afro-Asian Games!!!!
In response to this piece, an NRI actually put up an appeal to support Bindra. The total amount Bindra needed at the time to make it to the Athens Olympics was estimated to be Rs 1.2 crores. PER YEAR. (scroll down to see the break up).
Government support being a mere Rs 15 lakhs, the rest had to be raised by the athelete. At the time his father noted:
"Today, international sporting fraternity is pressing upon him, rather trying to take advantage of the fact that there is no full support to him from India and want him to shoot and represent countries like Germany, Holland or Denmark, but as a true nationalistic Indian, I have told Abhinav that behind every victory will be the Indian tricolour" and as such we have declined financial offer from these countries."
Abhinav did make it to Athens so I guess somehow that money was put together. After all, his father is the promoter of the Chandigarh-based Rs 300-crore Hitech Group which has interests in agro- and meat-processing, computer gaming, livestock genetics and pharmaceuticals. So maybe it wasn't whether he could cough up the money for his own training, but the principle of the thing.
Aside: Luckily, apart from the government (which has supported shooting far more than many other sports) we now have the LN Mittal Champions Trust and the Olympic Gold Quest.
Giving hope to those who don't have daddies with the crores.
Hanging on to the dream
But getting back to Abhinav, the chap was a child prodigy. At the Sydney Olympics, he was the youngest member of the Indian contingent and the youngest shooter to be ever present at the Games.
But again, despite so much potential, so many impressive victories at other forums, in Athens, which should have been his moment of glory, he crashed out.
BBC notes: He strolled into the final at Athens with a score of 597 out of 600 and was third. He was shooting like a dream and looked cool as a cucumber. But in the final, things didn't go his way. He shot his worst series of the day and crashed to seventh position. Questions arose about his ability to take the pressure of a final.
Then, he had a back injury. Despite that, and in pain, he went for the World Championships in Zagreb in 2006. And won gold. But the injury kept him out of the Asian Games.
A glimpse of his training schedule tells you it may look effortless. But it's backbreaking work...
Abhinav looks at the bull’s eye - a dark 5 millimeter spot on a brown piece of paper, at the other end of the hall, as predator looks on at it’s prey. As the finger softly presses the trigger, there is a crackle of sound. The sharpshooter tugs at the pulley and examines the target. Time for another spot.
This routine is followed with rigor seven hours a daily plus another few hours for physical training: jogging and stretching exercise. Thus there is complete dedication of body and soul ten hours a day, 365 days a year. "I may not like it but at the end of the day, I am pretty exhausted," says he.
Shooting requires a different kind of stamina. The stamina to concentrate hard and retain balance for couple hours while holding a rifle weighing over five kilograms. And a synchronicity of mind, eyes and finger, a slight variance in any of these and you risk losing all...
Keeping the Olympic dream alive, Bindra spent the last four months training in South Africa and Germany. Apparently, before heading towards Beijing, Abhinav had even taken a commando course to build up his physical endurance and a mental training session to calm the nerves.
And it certainly seems to have worked!
Sadly, it was not Gagan Narang's day. Gagan who? Well, we'll have to wait for another day for his nerves of steel to play out.
And I am sure they will. Olympics mein account khul gaya hai, ab isey band nahin hone denge. As Abhinav says, a billion people deserve not one but 40 gold medals...
Till yesterday, even a single one looked impossible, didn't it? It takes a single success story to inspire a hundred new hopes.
Abhinav's grandfather Late Colonel Bir Singh was an excellent hockey player and had played alongside Dhyanchand in pre-Partition days.
As a 10 year old, when Abhinav first went to the shooting ranges the more experienced shooters pushed him back. He came back home without even getting to fire a single shot.
Abhinav is the CEO of Abhinav Futuristics, which many have reported is the sole agent of German-made Walther weapons in India. The company actually seems to be more into gaming devices and peripherals.
He completed an undergraduate business management course from IILM, Delhi an affiliate of the prestigious Bradford University, UK.
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photo: Jeff Gross/ Getty Images