Following on Rajyavardhan Rathores success at Athens,
India had a number of shooters capable of winning an Olympic medal at the time of Beijing, a first in the history of Indian sport. Bindra made the moment his own and scripted himself into history. Now, with only months left for the next Olympics, far more significant than his personal triumph is the fact that his gold has unleashed a revolution of sorts in India.
His Beijing gold helped satisfy a national yearning and in the process made a statement about the significance of sport in an era of escalating political turmoil. Olympic success, the victory demonstrated, held the promise of uniting Indians across the country. Bindra was flooded by sponsorship offers that had long been reserved for over-pampered cricket stars. An Olympic sport other than hockey got to the centrestage of national consciousness.
It is of great interest to note in this beautifully written autobiography that Bindra had shot a 4 in his first sighting shot before the final at Beijing. The second was an equally baffling 4.2. Against this backdrop, his first shot of 10.5 in the final shows the enormity of the achievement. Equally interesting is the reason he lost at Athens after making the finals. The floor below his position at the range was unsteady. His coach discovered this later and reported it to the technical committee. They discovered the glue wasnt glued tight and a bubble had formed. It meant the tile had a slight bounce. Slight in shooting was fatal. Slight meant I was doomed.
While most of the book makes for riveting reading, whats fantastic is to see Bindra state in clear cut terms that India isnt ready to host a mega spectacle like CWG, forget the Olympics. He echoes the sentiments of the average Indian on the street, saying efforts should be directed at producing Olympic champions before we strive to host the Olympics on Indian soil. Bindra has had multiple squabbles but his tirade against the ill-treatment meted out to sportspersons by high-handed officials is timely, especially when the sports ministry is striving to make these officials more accountable.
Many talented athletes have suffered at the hands of incompetent officials, with individual acts of brilliance without much help from the system. Bindras success has followed a similar template. Born with the luxury of affluence and an indoor shooting range in his backyard, he emerged a child prodigy, only to taste initial defeat at Sydney and Athens. He could easily have given up, blamed the system and been content with his World Championship and CWG medals. But he persevered. What followed was a victory born out of the pain of loss and an iron will to succeed. He is proof that it is indeed possible to succeed without access to government-sponsored sporting facilities. This is not to argue against creating efficient systemsthat would be a terrible folly. But in sports there are moments when all it boils down to is self-belief.
Bindras autobiography also provides some hearty laughs. Sample the following incident at the Beijing Olympic village. The Indian flag is hoisted in the village, a tradition that produces an impromptu athletic moment from Suresh Kalmadi, the head of the Indian Olympic Association (he has since been removed on charges of alleged misappropriation of CWG 2010 funds). When he realises Sonia Gandhi has arrived at a different gate, he sprints there, in his suit and flapping tie, in impressive fashion.
The author is a sports historian
A Shot at History: My
obsessive journey to Olympic gold
(with Rohit Brijnath)