‘Armyman, nation’s pride’ screams a giant billboard outside the army golf course in Delhi. On it is a familiar face, garlanded and smiling, eyes looking up to the sky, lips kissing the silver he won at the Athens Olympics.
Four years down the line, the face is still as bright. Yet it isn’t as familiar. It’s not just the years. If anything, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore looks younger, larger and fitter than the man one remembers from the billboards and TV screen.
But there’s also the disappointment of not having even qualified for the finals at the Beijing Games. Rathore fell short of his own previous best in double trap event by 13 points.
So what went wrong in China?
He blames it on his hunt for perfection. “I was looking for a perfect technique, which was an error. There’s no perfect technique.” What of his mid-Games statement: ‘Now that Bindra has won gold, the pressure’s off me’? The colonel explains, “My primary aim was that India should win a medal. For me, even shooting is a team game. Yes, I agree that when Abhinav won, the fire inside me was subdued a little. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t aim for a medal.”
Rathore’s poor showing fazed no one, least of all himself. He sees this as a “necessary step” to achieving his destiny. The sportsman takes pride in being a fourth-generation armyman. “The qualities of a soldier have been imbibed in me since birth — not giving up, putting ‘we’ ahead of ‘I’, humility, chivalry. I am proud of myself and have achieved a lot outside of shooting — be it in counter-insurgency, team sports or military training.” And modelling. Last week, ‘Chilly’ Rathore, walked the ramp for the first time for a jewellery chain. Ask him what that was about, and the otherwise composed Olympic hero shifts uncomfortably. “That was just a little bit of fun,” he says.
Such fun has got him a lot of money. Rathore remains one of India’s most visible non-cricketing sportsmen, with sponsorship deals with giants such as Hero Honda and Sahara. As of now the money is rolling and Rathore seems to be content in spending time in the limelight. “Athletes are also living beings. They need to make a living as well,” he says. “While most people receive a salary every month, we Olympians get paid once every four years only — and that, too, is risky.” For him, money for training is all good. After all why should an athlete lack any of the luxuries of life, he asks, sitting not far from his new, shiny luxury sedan.
But why do so many companies who spend lakhs of rupees in marketing want him as the face of their product? Chilly doesn’t seem to know. “I’ve never really ever thought about it,” he confesses.
Does so much money riding on his performance ever make him worried that he’ll not be able to live up to expectations? “I am representing the nation and am committed to the people to bring back a gold. But the companies, they do believe in my values... as I said, the qualities of a soldier.” Ah yes, the golden quartet of determination, teamwork, humility and chivalry.
Now that he has returned empty-handed from Beijing, Rathore says he wants to take a break from shooting. I can’t speak of my future plans right now, as I will be then committing myself — and I want to back up commitment with performance,” he says. He plans to do things he hasn’t had the time for in the last nine years: “Spending time with the family and the kids, playing darts and Scrabble.”
Does that mean the ace shooter is past his prime? “I have tasted both success and failure. 2012 [Olympics] will be a high point of my career and I shall be the best bet for a medal,” says the armyman, commitment writ large over his face.
The interview over, the time has come for the photo shoot, and the soldier-sportsman-patriot-family-man transforms himself into another being. “What should I wear?” he asks excitedly. “Formal or informal? Bright or dark?” He returns 10 minutes later, dressed impeccably in black, and goes through the shoot with a panache that would put most professional models to shame.
The shoot over, Rathore walks over to take a look at the images. As he smiles, he looks like someone familiar. Ah yes, the man on the billboard nearby — satisfied and victorious, but minus the silver.