I met Abhinav some 16 years ago in Munich during a World Cup. He was a very young boy. I was a very old man. He came to me and asked if it was possible for him to train with me. I said, ‘yeah, well, why not?’.
He was the first shooter from India whom I had coached. Back then, Indian shooting was very poor. His father asked if it was possible to make his son a big shooter or an Olympic champion. My first response was, ‘it’s impossible.’ It was impossible because to be good in shooting in India because there was no infrastructure, knowledge or technique, shooting range and competition. But there was something special about them. I’ve been in shooting for 40 years and have seen an awful lot. Other shooters who train under me come from countries where it is normal to win an Olympic medal. So if am a sportsman from the USA, I will go to the Olympics to win a gold medal. Because if I don’t, then I look like an a**hole.
Abhinav, on the other hand, came from a country where a gold medal was something unimaginable until he won it. So the biggest difference for me was that he, and his parents, dared to imagine and visualise the impossible. They set themselves a target and did everything to achieve it. That was the real big step.
So we trained together to get better. My first impression of Abhinav was that he was very polite. He is what we call in German, ‘bescheiden’. Modest. These days, almost every sport is forming its characters. Most shooters are more or less quiet. They are all introverts. From this point of view, Abhinav was not very different. But what separates very good shooters from just the good ones is they go a little bit more in the extreme. The real nucleus of performance is hard work. Success is not about burning fire, etc. It’s combination of a lot of endurance, little luck in the right moment, getting the right vibrations and clear mind to see things in a positive manner. And from this point of view, Abhinav is the person with the clearest vision.
It has helped him achieve whatever he has, with Beijing being his best performance. The gold was a big deal for everyone in India, and I understand why. But for me and my wife Gaby, who has worked with Abhinav as well, a gold medal is not special. Over the years, I have had many shooters who have done that.
But I have observed the obsession around Abhinav is such that if he doesn’t win a gold medal in a tournament, people ask what is wrong with him or the journalists ask when will he retire. At the Rio Olympics, when Abhinav couldn’t win a medal, people wanted a sad story. A loser story. But I know the trouble we had to just get to the Olympics; to win that quota place. Abhinav was ranked world No. 18 or something. So we were happy to get into the final. Of course, medal was our aim but you need to keep an overall perspective.
Yet, in the final, Abhinav gave India some nice drama. We could see him coming from eighth place to fourth. He gave India one hour of great sporting television and we should be grateful for this. But the moment the final concluded, he was asked, ‘how does it feel to be fourth.’ They missed the point completely.
Abhinav is a racehorse. He was absolutely in the zone. We had prepared like never before. He had just one goal and that was to win the medal. The desire was no less than Sydney or Athens or Beijing. But it did not happen. For those people who like shooting, they will remember the final for a long time.
If you analyse truthfully, then India is 50 years behind rest of the world. They should be happy to see someone competing at the Olympics because even to get there, he or she has to get the qualification at an international tournament. That, in itself, is an achievement.
We always try to glorify sportspersons. But the thing is, if India wants to have success in sports, then it needs structure. What made Abhinav strong is just the structure – the way he looks for equipment, the way he finds his coach, the way he gets his physiotherapist – you cannot believe how much he did on fitness in the last two years.
So if India wants to play a role in international sport, then it should not copy its heroes but instead build proper structures. When the Chinese started to get into high performance sport, they went out and bought coaches from all over the world. Britain, too, have done the same, which has drastically improved their performance in the last few years.
Abhinav knows structures of high performance. And that’s perhaps what he might focus on now that he has retired. I am not a prophet so I don’t know if Abhinav will miss going to the range every day. If you do something for 20 years and suddenly stop it, then you have always strange vibrations. I stopped shooting 30 years ago but I still dream of competing. So everything is possible. But maybe he is going to business now and it will be a a good idea for him to put his energy there.
He has shown that if you follow the process, success is not impossible to achieve. He has been pragmatic in his approach always. He has always been very practical. So as he calls it a day, it’s really important that we don’t make it a sentimental journey.
Heinz and his wife Gaby have coached Bindra for the last 16 years.