As India trudged to work on Monday, 3,781 km away in Beijing, 25-year-old Abhinav Bindra took a shot and made history as the first Indian to win an individual gold medal in the Olympics – in the 10-metre air rifle event.
Not for him the wild celebrations. “I remained cool and focused. There was no pressure on me. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I approached the final aggressively,” he said.
Bindra could not have had a more disastrous start. Written off for skipping the 2006 Doha Asian Games because of back injury, in the official practice round on Sunday, of the 10 shots, his first shot hit outside the target, at the bottom – his score was a mere 4.2 of 10.9.
Unruffled, he readjusted his gun and took another shot. This time it was a shade better, at 7.4. Of the 10 shots, only his seventh shot registered a 10.1. Other shooters in the fray had scores of more than 10. But Bindra was not one to be intimidated. Affectionately called Constant Comatose by his teammates for being taciturn, he quietly put his practice shots behind him, qualified in fourth place for the final, and stood for the deciding 10 shots.
In shooting, the target is divided into 10 concentric circles. Points range from 1 to 10 as you move to the innermost circle. The circle closest to the centre is further divided into 10 circles. The shot into the absolute centre fetches the highest score of 10.9.
“I started off badly, but then you can’t let these shots take over you. Maybe it made me more determined,” said Bindra who shot a 10.7 in his first shot of the final. Starting 2 points behind the leader, Finnish Henri Hakkinen, one behind the 2004 gold medallist China’s Qinan Zhu and behind Alin George Moldvoveanu of Romania on countback, Bindra gradually rose to the top with his seventh shot of 10.6, opening a 2-point lead with Hakkinen. Then, with a shot of 10 in the eighth and 10.3 in the ninth, he was in a tie with the Finn. His last shot couldn’t have been better. A 10.8 is as good as it gets, and a bad 9.7 by Hakkinen steered Bindra to victory.
Standing on the podium, the Chinese wept for letting his country down. Nobody would have minded if Bindra had shed a few tears. But then, that’s not him. He told the media: “I can’t describe the feeling. I know how hard I have worked for this. It’s been really tough. I am completely exhausted, mentally.” Bindra wished he could go home now. “I want to meet my family who has supported me through thick and thin,” he said.