After winning gold at Beijing four years ago,Abhinav Bindra took a year-long sabbatical to recharge his batteries. You didnt need a working knowledge of shooting to fathom how exhausted his mind must have been.
By then,after all those months spent preparing for the Olympics,the concentric circles of the 10m air rifle target must have invaded his dreams,the 10-point ring growing tinier and tinier till he woke up in a sweat.
Four years on,in the days leading up to the 10m air rifle event in London,Gagan Narang felt some pretty unpleasant physiological effects as well. In his own words,every hour in the shooting range drained him. His insides were eating him. After sub-10 scores in his seventh and eighth shots in the final,his mind was a mess,his head flooding with memories of Beijing,where he finished a hairs breadth outside the eight who qualified for the final. Thoughts started carpet bombing my brain, he said. I thought,maybe my Olympics are over.
All this,coupled with the sweet relief of finally getting on the podium,must have induced a massive sense of disorientation in Narang. An hour after landing at the Pune airport,he sat atop a jeep that looked like it had taken a shortcut through a florists on its way to the Balewadi sports complex to bring up the rear of a procession of roughly 2000,half of whom were either beating drums or setting off fireworks.
When he finally entered the range,Narang found himself having to embrace his parents twice,for the benefit of a small army of photographers who had missed the first hug. They could now complete his welcome with a 21-flashbulb salute.
Narangs ears and pupils must have still been recovering when the inevitable question arrived. What next? Was he contemplating a long break a la Bindra? He wasnt. He was instead seeking to emulate Slovenian Rajmond Debevec,the 49-year-old bronze medalist in the 50m rifle prone event.
I have at least three more Olympics to go, Narang said. I was speaking to him (Debevec) in Milan,during the World Championships,and he told me he was going to take part in his seventh or eighth Olympics,and that he won his first medal on his fifth attempt. Things like that really motivate you.
Peering into his sight before his final shot in London,Narang knew he had to shoot 10.1 or better to take the bronze ahead of Chinese shooter Wang Tao,who,standing alongside,had shot 10.4. The diameter of the 10-point ring is 0.5mm. The difference between 10 and 10.1 is one-twentieth of a millimeter. That tiny margin separated bronze and a cacophonous welcome on the streets of Pune from no medal and a muted pat-on-the-back reception.
Be Ruthless message
On Narangs bathroom mirror in the Games village,his coach Stanislaus Lapidus had stuck a piece of paper. If youre not ruthless today, it read,youll be a loser tomorrow. Back in Balewadi,Maharashtra sports minister Padmakar Valvi promised that he would extend Narangs contract to run his Gun for Glory shooting academy out of Balewadi for five more years. The original contract had run out in April. It isnt a huge leap of the imagination to think that the state government may have been less enthusiastic about a contract extension had Narang finished fourth.
But that is speculation.