Abhinav Bindra, the Olympic and the world champion, has trained his gun at the World Championships to defend his gold medal. That no shooter ever has retained the world title lays bare the enormity of the task Bindra has set out to achieve.
But before he takes aim in the championship, scheduled for July-August in Munich, the ace shooter will need to secure a berth in the national squad by participating and qualifying in two selection trials to be held in Pune on June 19 and 20.
The trails will see him shooting in India after a period of four-and-half years. The last time he shot in India was way back in December 2005, just before the Melbourne Commonwealth Games at the Karni Shooting Range.
"I have been preparing for the World Championships for almost a year now, including competing in a couple of international events. Anyhow, all my focus now is on the trials and making it to the squad," said Bindra. "I can't run away from it and have no option but to appear in the trials," he said.
What's forced the ace shooter to agree to appear in the trials is the National Rifle Association of India's (NRAI) new selection policy, which makes it mandatory for every pistol and rifle shooter to appear in two trials if they want to be picked for the World Championship. As per this policy, the current Olympic, World Championship and World Cup Finals medallists, along with top 15 shooters in the world rankings, get some grace points.
The system gives Bindra four points, three for being an Olympic champion and one for his No. 14 world ranking. These points will be added to his average total in the two trials.
"Having these grace points doesn't mean I can take the trials lightly. I have to give my best to get selected. However, if I miss out on a berth in the squad, I will continue to prepare for the 2012 London Olympics," said Bindra.
After the trials, Bindra will compete in the year's fourth and the last World Cup in Belgrade, which will be his first major event since his Beijing Olympic triumph. After the World Cup, he will have four weeks to train for the World Championship (air rifle event will be on July 31).
Is he feeling any pressure of defending his world title? "Pressure is always there, you can't ignore it. You just need to keep yourself as fresh and stress-free as possible to give yourself a chance to succeed." And one thing he's added to his training regimen to keep pressure off himself is meditation. "He practices a Chinese form called Tauli. It controls breathing in such a way that the mind and body coordination improves by almost 30 per cent," said Dr Amit Bhattacharjee, his mental trainer. "It helps him to re-consider, re-think and act according to his strategy. It also improves the stability of the body, which is a very important aspect of shooting," he added.