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As a 13-year-old, Abhinav Bindra says he decided to shoot because he wanted to participate in a sport and felt picking up a gun wouldn’t be the hardest thing to do. As it turned out, his choice would lead to an an obsessive, painful but ultimately rewarding career.
On Sunday, Bindra officially announced that he would be putting down his weapon. He was satisfied with his achievements over the past two decades and was filled with anticipation for the future.
India’s only individual Olympic gold medalist is only 34 years old. Having participated in the first of his five Olympics, as a 17-year-old, he certainly has many years left to practise his craft. But Bindra is satisfied. Despite finishing fourth at the Rio Games – so close to another medal – it seems the regret is only in the eyes of his fans.
For Bindra it was the perfect way to exit the stage. He says the process has always been more important than the result. “My talent lies in my hard work. My performance at Rio gave me closure. I did my best and could not have done any more,” he read from a prepared statement, betraying no emotion on his farewell function.
While he has decided, “to move on and hand over the baton to the younger generation”, Bindra still has plenty on his plate. He is heading the NRAI’s five-member review committee to probe the Indian shooters’ Rio Olympics debacle. He is also reported to be named a member of the Prime Minister’s task force to prepare a comprehensive action plan for the next three Olympic Games.
Bindra is bubbling with ideas on the future of sport in India too. “I would like Indian sport to grow and I think that can be only possible if we are able to invest in grassroots and set up programmes and systems for people to come in and join sport. That requires investment, that requires expertise, it also requires a lot of patience, and it also requires will,” Bindra said.
Bindra had all of it, but he knows it isn’t an easy task for others to follow. “Because when you start to invest in grassroots it’s not something you are going to get payback or returns immediately. You might get a return in 10 to 20 years, so you need to have that ability to persist. I thing that is the only way we could develop as a country and we could at one point of time win double digit Olympic medals.”
And while his own path to Olympic glory was charted through the relentless pursuit of excellence, Bindra knows it isn’t the only route to success for the country as a whole. “You need to enjoy what you do and you need to do it well. I think the real breakthrough will come when sport becomes a social activity, when a family chose sport over a movie on a Sunday afternoon and go and involve themselves in the sporting activity. “Not for competition but to have fun, when that starts to happen that is the real breakthrough and I think we are far away from that.”
For the immediate future though, Bindra says he is setting his sights on business that deals with “fitness, medical and high performance side of sports”. “I am trying to earn a living. I am involved in business, trying to earn a living, put food on the plate. Well I am interested in sport but sport you know is not going to give me much money. I am involved in certain things, which is to do with fitness, doing something on the medical side, and I am also trying to do something on high performance side of sports,” Bindra would say on the sidelines of his farewell. “The role of sports science, sport medicine is incredibly important in modern day sport. We can’t do without it. I don’t think the whole concept is actually strong enough in our country,” he added.
The bustling world of business seems a world apart from the monkish solitude Bindra has experienced of shooting on the range. He though seems to have few worries about the change. “ It’s actually nice because that’s the way I am. I like to struggle and I have to start from scratch. So it’s wonderful, I feel like a 13-year-old trying to learn how to shoot. But it’s good and that’s the way it should be. It’s easy,” he says. Now, where have we heard that before?