I go back to 1996 when a young boy in a shimmering Mercedes Benz came at the Karni Singh ranges in Tughlakabad. My first impression — and that was the verdict of many others — was of another rich brat who just wanted to play with guns. Little did I know then that the 14-year-old would be my toughest competitor —and a friend — in the next couple of months.
As a junior in the air rifle event, I happened to share the podium with Abhinav on many occasions. But I could never beat him. My first competition alongside Abhinav was the 1997 National Championships in Delhi. Abhinav shot 568 to win gold. I managed silver with 564. From 1997 to 2000, we were a core group of about five shooters who were dominating the scene.
Abhinav then opted to train abroad while the others in the camp struggled with the pathetic ranges and weather conditions in the country. Our next competition was the 2000 National Championship at Phillaur. He made us look like ants. He had 590-plus scores. We could barely manage 570.
He is also an excellent painter, a facet few know. He excels in what he aims for. He is a man of few words and this trait invariably goes against him. People say he is snobbish. But actually he is a warm guy. He has nerves of steel. He communicates with a very few and I am proud to be one of them.
There is one incident I fondly remember. We participated in the Masters meet in Mumbai (1999), where I won silver and he what else? — the gold. The winner got Rs 5,000 and the runner-up Rs 3,000. The envelopes got swapped. He first congratulated me and then asked for his envelope. That showed he valued his achievement, however small it was.
We shot again at the World Cup in Korea (2003). He shot a 596 and missed the bronze by 0.1 point. That’s the last time I shot with him. I’ve known Abhinav and RVS Rathore and have great regard for them; Abhinav for his fight against the crippling back problem and Rathore for his armyman composure. How serious Abhinav’s back problem was can be gauged from the fact that he took a year-long break. But he never complained.
Coming into Beijing, did anyone know about his preparations? Like a crouching tiger he slayed the dragon. Few shooters can claim to have clinched the world championship and the Olympic gold by the age of 25. He also spent some time with one of the best and most expensive mental trainers in the world, Lanny R. Bassham. The money was well spent.
The writer is the founder of shooting website indianshooting.com