NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A chubby child in the mid 1990s, Abhinav Bindra began by shattering beer bottles on the lawn. Before too long he had graduated to smashing ampoules with pellets from the air gun his father had given him on his birthday.
A decade or so later in Beijing, the bespectacled shooter would shatter a myth and win independent India’s first individual Olympic gold in the 10m air rifle event of the 2008 Games.
Part of the 11-member Indian shooting contingent bound for the London Games, the 29-year-old now shoulders the bulk of expectation from the world’s second most populous nation.
Starved of significant Olympic success, India remains mired in nostalgia over its hockey heyday which yielded eight gold medals from 1928-1980, before Bindra dazzled in Beijing.
While the country still talks about Bindra’s feat, the shooter has moved on.
“Past is history, everybody has forgotten it,” Bindra said earlier this year. “I know past was great but it does not help me now. I can’t replicate my past. I am living in the present.”
His fans have virtually taken a second Olympic medal for granted, but Bindra is not saddling himself with unnecessary pressure.
“I think this is something which is more of an external burden which I don’t necessarily want to lift,” he told Reuters after qualifying for London last year.
“Beijing was great but it’s over and I am looking forward to London with a clear mind and a clean slate.”
A clear mind he definitely possesses, and has done from his early days, evidence of which was the 13-year-old Bindra sending a letter to his first coach in the north Indian city of Chandigarh, requesting him to train him and promising to do him proud.
Despite attending a 1996 Lord’s Test in London, Bindra was strangely immune to cricket which casts a bewitching spell over the average Indian youth.
Instead, he was more fascinated by the sight of his industrialist father dismantling and cleaning the three guns the Bindras owned.
There was almost an element of inevitability in Bindra being drawn to shooting, as evident from an incident Bindra describes in his autobiography “A Shot At History” which was published last year.
Bindra was two-years-old when the family farmhouse was attacked by a mob that would disperse only after his father and grandfather had fired in the air.
AIMING AT BALLOON ON MAID‘S HEAD
Growing up, Bindra would pick up a gun and take shots at beer bottles, ampoules and even balloons and bottles placed on the head of a gullible maid and her daughter.
“The maids were brave, I was foolish. Fortunately I was also a good shot,” Bindra wrote in his book.
Those “acts of irresponsibility” notwithstanding, Bindra showed early sparks but his talent was not readily acknowledged in India.
He shot a perfect 400 in a 1996 competition but had ‘No Result’ against his name as the organisers could not believe a 13-year-old could shoot that high.
Bindra subsequently honed his skills in a German shooting school in Wiesbaden but could not reach the final in 2000 Sydney Olympics.
A similar failure awaited him four years later in Athens but the setback effected a change in his approach to shooting and resulted in a monastic dedication to his craft.
Not a natural athlete, Bindra underwent commando training, had his brain mapped, gathered neuro feedback and even designed his own shoes to find the right balance - all in a single-minded pursuit of flawlessness which paid off in Beijing.
Post-Beijing, Bindra was showered with awards and cash prizes and even had a road named after him before his late qualification for London served him a stern reminder last year.
Bindra sights a silver lining there.
“It’s good that I struggled. Had I booked a place last year and relaxed, I would not have known the reality. Now I know how tough it will be (in London),” he said.
Editing by Ossian Shine