By : Boria Majumdar
It had just been an hour and more before that fateful 9 had shattered his Olympic dream. Four years of preparation had come to nothing. Ten hours across 365 days across four long years for one shoot off shot which lasted a second. And one micron separated Abhinav from his second Olympic medal.
If there was ever a heartbreak this was one. If there was ever a sportsman who took it straight up on his chin and moved on, here is one. “What else can I do? I have done all that I could have. Trained, worked hard, battled pain, stayed away from home. I couldn’t have done more, and I am happy I made the final and the fourth position. It was close.”
All one wanted to do was observe him to see if he was hiding his emotions. For one shot had relegated him to an also ran position. Made him a martyr. But no. Abhinav, the proud athlete that he is, did not want to give anything away. Like the now fabled last few shots in his qualifier, all he did was a slight shake of the head. “It is done. I now need to get this out of my system. 21 years is a real long time, isn’t it. Enough. Now I will go back and console my nephew who cried for one whole hour because his uncle lost. He is six and wants to be a shooter.”
Was he jabbering? No. Was it his way to unwind and come to terms with the heartbreak? No again. He is Abhinav, India’s only individual gold medal winner ever and he has to be different. He was already trying to distance himself from the loss and just move on. “I will have my one last meal in the Olympic village. I won’t come back here again. Been here 5 times in the last 16 years across Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London and Rio and I think I have done my share. Been a decent career.”
Let’s go back to the last few shots of qualification. After three solid relays, Abhinav had all of a sudden started to falter. From 4th to 5th to 12th, his Olympic dream was almost up in flames. His supporters had begun to chew their nails. Shake. Pray. “Yes, of course, I was shaking. More than you all. I am a human being after all. Why do you think I wasn’t nervous? I was feeling the pressure, the heat, the nervousness and yet I couldn’t move. My body was not allowed to move because I needed to shoot a last good relay the make the final. But that’s what I had trained for. Worked on my body, my technique, my mind. And I tried to refocus because I knew these were the last 10 shots of my shooting life. I had been there and done that for 21 long years and let me do the last few shots well. That’s all I was thinking to myself, and it worked.”
Work it indeed did. Three 10.8s in his last few shots and Abhinav had made his third Olympic final. And while it did not end in glory, it did not end in disgrace either. Coming fourth means only three men in this entire world of ours across two hundred plus nations are better than this man. Six were better than him in Athens, none in Beijing and three now. To be there in the world’s top eight either across a period of 12 long years isn’t bad, is it?
While India’s lone Olympic champion tries to start a new life, it is too early to push him on what it will be like, there is no doubt it has been a career unrivalled. He has had his moments of lows. And highs. The lows, as is always the case, are far more than the highs. Yet he did not give up. Got up at 5 am every morning to train. Get to his range by 8.30 and do EMS training and everything else that he possibly could to get himself ready. To make the Olympic final and shoot a medal for India. He was almost there. Almost. The problem is, in sport, the almost-there is nonexistent. It is winner takes all. None know it better than Abhinav. And that’s why he is so candid. So poised and composed. He is no longer in Olympic depression. Rather it is a liberation of sorts. He is relieved because he couldn’t have done any better. “There is literally no fuel left in the tank. I have given it my all”, says Abhinav.
So will he watch the Olympics? Is there any particular thing he wants to watch now that he has the time? Will he dabble into eating well once he is back in India after close to 2 months away from home? What is a normal life for Abhinav Bindra? Has he led anything of the like in the last two decades?
I kept asking him the questions. Abhinav kept smiling. “No, I won’t watch the Olympics. Maybe an event here and there on television. But no, nothing in particular. Also, I am not a big foodie. Yes, I have missed home food or will eat at home, but it is not something that attracts me a great deal. I don’t really know what I will do in the morning after I wake up. Will have to wait and see.”
As Abhinav kept saying I kept thinking to myself- how boring can one be? Is he not interested in the real pleasures of life? But then it dawned on me one final time. No, he is not ordinary. An ordinary man does not win Olympic Gold. Does not make the final three times. Make it to the playoff and then remain composed after heartbreak. He is a genius and Indian sport should celebrate him.
Well done Abhinav and enjoy retirement.
Boria Majumdar (Historian / Writer / Commentator / Journalist)
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