In the end, it was just not meant to be. Abhinav Bindra had come to Rio in April this year to figure out the precise nuances of the venue for the Olympic 10m air rifle final. The man who has worked on his craft with the diligence of a scientist made sure that he went home and replicated the Rio environs at his home range. The light here is different between the qualifying and the final halls. Bindra had made a special sight to ensure that the light would not impact his shooting. This morning he came to the range and put his gun on a table. Like many a thing at venues here, the table collapsed. The special sight broke and India’s only individual Olympic gold winner had to hastily fix another sight that he had last used back in India.
Bindra is not a man for excuses. He did not share this information with waiting reporters; your correspondent got it from a member of the support staff. Whether that sight made for the percentile difference that makes or mars a medal at the Olympics is a matter of speculation. You’re not going to hear Bindra moaning about it. But it appears that the hopes of a billion were dashed for a table collapsed.
Bindra finished fourth after he was unable to win the tiebreak (a single shot to decide between two shooters tied at the same score) against Serhiy Kulish of Ukraine. Kulish went on to claim silver even as the silver medallist from London Niccolo Campriani won gold.
Earlier, Bindra had pulled off a spectacular last five shots to claw his way into the final eight of the 10m air rifle final at the Rio Olympics. Comfortably in the top-eight bracket after the first 40 shots, he took a break and sipped an energy drink as he had a quiet word with his long-time coach Heinz Reinkemeier. His next series of 10 shots were the worst he shot in qualifying today (102.1) and suddenly he was slipping down to tenth spot over all and just outside the qualifying cut off of the top-eight. It’s then that this man’s true class came through. The maximum a shooter can score in a single shot is 10.9. Bindra shot four 10.8s in his last five shots. It was those that ensured he qualified in seventh place with a total score of 625.7.
This was one of the toughest fields in 10m air rifle. The guy who was the defending gold medalist from London, Alin George Moldoveanu finished 19th in qualifying while India’s bronze medallist from the previous edition, Gagan Narang, placed 23. The current world champion, 20-year-old Haoran Yang from China, finished 31 in qualifying. It’s not that past success totally jinxed people for the guy topping the table with 630.2 is the silver medalist from London.
While fortune shone at him in Beijing, of course it was summoned by years of meditative toil, Bindra has been unlucky in two finals now. At Athens, the floor under his particular spot was dodgy. In a sport that is decided by millimeters, it proved to be his undoing. He later told this correspondent that at Athens he was shooting the best he ever had. Luck deserted him there, and it once again refused to favour him in Rio. Out of his five Olympics, Bindra made the finals in three. His consistency deserved a better ending, but fate and sport don’t play to any set script.