At last, just when we had nearly given up hope, India has struck Olympic gold. For a country feeding off fading memories of hockey triumphs, Abhinav Bindra couldn’t have won India’s first-ever individual Olympic gold medal a day sooner. In one of the most thrilling 10-metre air rifle finals in Olympic history, Bindra overcame a two-point deficit against Finland’s Henri Hakkinen and one point against defending champion Zhu Qinan of China to hit the bull’s eye. The feat is all the more remarkable considering the 10m air rifle world champion overcame a spine injury that prevented him from lifting a rifle for almost a year before he resumed training.
India’s Olympic campaign began disastrously as top shooters like Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Mansher Singh and Anjali Bhagwat — considered the country’s best bets for medals — failed to even qualify for the finals of their respective events. Bindra’s achievement should inspire a new generation of gold-fingered marksmen and women who have the potential to win laurels at the highest levels of competition.
Many things, however, need to change before more Bindras find their place on the Olympic podium. Shooting, once the monopoly of Maharajas, is an expensive sport. It wasn’t until Jaspal Rana won India’s first individual gold medal at the 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games that the country’s ambitions were triggered. Funds apart, our shooters clearly need to get more international exposure. In Europe, a shooter takes part in scores of competitions each year — unlike the couple of annual contests organised here. If not for the backing of the army, it’s doubtful if shooters of the calibre of Rajyavardhan Rathore, India’s sole medal winner at the Athens Olympics, could have done so well. Most of the time, our shooters fend for themselves in getting cartridges and other accessories. A national camp in Delhi was actually cut short, as the Sports Authority of India couldn’t provide participants with ammunition. Rana was so dispirited that he stopped shooting altogether. Let’s hope Bindra’s gold will prove to be the magic bullet for change. But now, it’s time to bask in Bindra’s momentous achievement.