New Delhi: Abhinav Bindra finds it extremely hard to “push himself” to compete at the highest stage. The statement coming from India’s only individual gold medallist at the Olympic Games is hard to believe.
Sport is as much as about skill and hard work as persistent dedication. Bindra, 33, says he is “not a talented individual” but an “athlete who works very hard”.
The 2016 Rio Games will be Bindra’s fifth Olympics — the 10 metre air rifle shooter began his journey in 2000 Sydney as a 17-year-old — and he says he is not “looking back at the gold he won at the 2008 Beijing Games”, a medal that spurred athletes all across the country and fuelled a million dreams.
Says Bindra in a chat with this newspaper, “I do not look back at it. I have the gold. It looks great on my wall and it feels great because I put in 15 years of my life into it. I trained extremely hard and achieved my dream, but that is the past.
“In sport, yesterday doesn’t matter. Whether you win gold or finish last, it is the same. What you do on that particular day is the only reality and I am looking at the present. I don’t really care about the past. I am committed to the present.”
A self-confessed perfectionist, Bindra is known to delve into details and engage every effort to bring results. Ahead of the 2008 Games, he got a machine that maps how his brain functioned when he was shooting well, enrolled into a meditation course, underwent commando training three weeks prior to the tournament, tried negotiating a rock face blindfolded and even climbed a 40 foot “pizza” pole. All this was part of his upward journey that went into every aspect, be it mental, physical or emotional.
“Unfortunately, the same things will not work again. I wish they did, but they will not. Sport cannot be scripted,” says Bindra when asked about his intensive methods.
For Rio, Bindra wants to keep things “simple”. “I am trying not to complicate things,” he says.
“People ask me if I have been training the same way as I did before Beijing, but what was relevant eight years ago is not important any more.
“This time, my focus is a lot on my physical well being as my body is not getting younger. I am working with a battery of experts, that includes physiotherapists and sport medicine experts. We are using a lot of technology and things like electric muscle stimulation. You cannot achieve perfection. It is like chasing an untameable beast.
“You have to be well trained to be flexible and creative enough to accept things when they do not go your way. You can keep trying things but there is no guarantee for anything and one has to accept it.”
Bindra isn’t a conventional athlete who loves to go into the arena and knock off the opposition. In fact, he abhors competition and calls it “stupid”.
Stupid? “Yes, extremely stupid,” he laughs and explains. “Don’t get me wrong. I love to win medals and be at the top, but the entire process of competing and grinding doesn’t come naturally to me.
“I am not like Virat Kohli, who loves that pressure and the big stage and gives his best while competing in extremely trying conditions. All this is a struggle for me. I am a guy who likes to be quiet most of the times and be on my own. I do not like confrontation of any kind and try and avoid it. Sport is all about competing and trying to beat the rest. I struggle with it and then I win,” the gold medallist says.
This will be Bindra’s fifth and last Olympics, and he says he is “proud of having survived so long”. From a 17-year-old trying to come to grips with the biggest stage to the glorious gold medal in 2008, and then the disappointment of not reaching the final round in London 2012, it has been quite a journey for Bindra.
“It has been a fantastic journey, with lot of ups and downs. I was very young in 2000, and gradually learnt a lot more in Athens.
“Beijing was a dream fulfilled. I was chasing a dream for 15 years and it all came together then and I felt just blank. People think that it would have spurred me on to go on and on, but I actually became tired of shooting after that gold. My target had been achieved, there was nothing else to look ahead to.
“I found it easier to bounce back after the London Games. I thought I did well there but could not reach the final. And since my goal was unfulfilled, I was ready to return to training and work harder. There was work left to do.”
There is indeed work left to do and Bindra knows Rio offers a great opportunity to him. He has been on the big stage and understands what it takes to win. “It is important to be at the top of your game, every single minute, every single second. That is what I have been trying to achieve and learn all these years,” he said.