One of the enduring images, from India’s perspective, of the Beijing Olympics was that of Zhu Qinan being reduced to tears at a press conference minutes after being humiliated in front of the home crowd by Abhinav Bindra.
Next morning, the country’s leading English newspaper, China Daily, ran a huge picture of Bindra on its front page with a headline — which had an undertone of a taunt — that read: ‘A nation of a billion people wins its first gold.’
Unfortunately for Bindra, he hasn’t beaten a shooter from that other nation of a billion plus people since that historic Monday morning half a dozen years ago. Qinan exacted revenge at the range by winning the Guangzhou Asiad gold two years later — giving birth to an interesting duel; a cat-and-mouse game that may well have played its final leg at the Ongnyeon Shooting Range here.
China has played a pivotal role in shaping Bindra’s career. Much of his achievements have been measured vis-a-vis his Chinese counterparts. So it was fitting in a way that at his last Asian Games, Bindra was pitted against two Chinese rivals to battle for that elusive Asiad gold.
In his previous attempts, even an Asiad medal (in individuals) had eluded the 31-year-old. In that respect, he partially succeeded on Tuesday. Bindra achieved bronze in the individual and team events (with Sanjeev Rajput and Ravi Kumar). But a gold continued to dodge him. And once again, the Chinese shooters halted his march.
Bindra, though, wasn’t disappointed. Far from it, in fact. In the presser, he spoke of the impact Chinese shooters have had on him and his other teammates. ‘We’ve really looked up to them. I’ve enjoyed watching their unbelievable shots,’ he said. ‘You know, they’ve got guys who’re just 18 and already shooting incredible scores. I am almost double his age, with grey hair and all. So I am just happy that I still am capable of finishing on the podium alongside these young shooters.’
Bindra pointed at Yan Haoran, the ‘child genius’ who has taken the shooting fraternity by storm. Haoran and his compatriot Yifei Cao finished above the Indian marksman on the podium. But even before the medal ceremony could begin, Cao enquired, ‘Will he (Bindra) be continuing?’ It was a question that only Bindra could answer. Or so we assumed. ‘I know it’s confusing. But you’ll get it in a couple of days,’ he later said.
‘Look at all these Chinese shooters, they train 50 hours a week. I did that for 20 years. I trained 40-50 hours a week and I cannot do that anymore. Shooting is in my blood and I cannot do without it. If I don’t shoot for two weeks my body becomes numb,’ he added.
Bindra’s tweet on the eve of Tuesday’s event that it would be his last day as a competitive shooter had gotten everyone curious. Even the Korean and Japanese media, who’ve otherwise focussed only on their athletes, were keen to know the former Olympic champion’s future plans.
No, he won’t take part in most events now. Yes, he hopes to take part at the Rio Games two years from now. How, he does not know yet. ‘I will train twice a week from here on. I will try to compete domestically and compete at all the trials. And only if I am good enough for the world level like I did here I would try to go for the World Cups,’ he said.
Another Olympics will happen only if he feels good; if he is shooting decent scores. But he still ‘very much’ hopes to be at Rio. ‘I want to be a hobby shooter for a bit. If I am shooting well enough to compete at World Cups, I will surely go for trials. If I qualify for Rio, of course, I will compete,’ glancing at Yang. The 18-year-old could just smile and nod. Perhaps the mind games for a possible showdown have already begun.