How commando training and Chinese pellets made Abhinav Bindra an Olympic champion

Here’s a look at the preparation the Indian shooting ace went through before landing in Beijing for his golden Olympic moment in 2008.
By Naveen Peter

Ace Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra’s journey to the top of the Olympic podium is well covered. But not many know about the meticulous preparation that the Indian shooting star went through to land the top prize in the 10M Air Rifle at Beijing 2008.

On the anniversary of Abhinav Bindra’s golden moment, we take a look at a five things that the shooting ace did in his build-up to the Beijing Olympics.

Commando training

Understanding the pressure that Abhinav Bindra was under with Beijing 2008, consultant coach Uwe Riesterer chose to take the Indian shooter for a commando training a week ahead of the Games.

A former commando himself, German Uwe Riesterer realised the benefit of a challenging circuit training and the impact it would have on Abhinav Bindra as he headed for the Olympics.

“For Uwe, this was a perfect lesson, stress managed without thinking,” Bindra wrote in his autobiography -- A Shot at History.

The training would see Abhinav Bindra cross a log of wood across a 50-60-foot divide, cross the Burma Bridge, clamber up the rock climbing wall and, more interestingly, climb on top of a 40-foot high pizza pole, which becomes progressively smaller closer towards the summit and has a platform at the peak the size of a pizza box.

“I started climbing and halfway up decided I could not go on,” he said. “But this was precisely the reason for attempting the task. I had to conquer fear, fear that could grip me during an Olympic final. I was scared out of my wits even though I was hooked to safety wires. I pushed on and finally stood trembling at the top.”

Creating Beijing in Chandigarh

Like in tennis and football, the competition venue matters a lot in shooting as well.

Realising that the shooting hall at Beijing 2008 was unusually large, Abhinav Bindra would go on to hire a marriage hall back home in Chandigarh to set up a range in it and train. 

“I needed to find a sense of myself within it,” he reasoned.

A dress rehearsal like no other

Ahead of the 2008 Olympics, Abhinav Bindra spent enough time in Germany -- the power centre of shooting -- perfecting his talent. 

With coaches Heinz Reinkemeier and Gabriele Buhlmann by his side, the Indian shooter went through every minute aspect of his event in detail, examining every possible eventuality.

Be it his posture while walking into the shooting hall for the event -- the need for an open stance or even having to use a secondary part of the rifle, Abhinav Bindra didn’t want any surprises at Beijing 2008. 

The trio would also have ‘mock finals’ to prepare the Indian shooter for the competition pressure. “At these fake finals, I shot from every possible shooting point, one to eight,” Abhinav Bindra said.

Coach Gabriele Buhlmann was by Abhinav Bindra’s side when he won the Olympic gold at Beijing 2008.

“Before the shot, she (Buhlmann) distracts me: ‘You are tied for the lead with someone else’. Demanding that I shoot the best on my last shot. I love her for this because in Beijing it is exactly what happens.

Losing ‘sight’

Despite his detailed preparation, Abhinav Bindra was not spared of a last-minute problem ahead of the 10m Air Rifle final at Beijing 2008.

While the qualification went well for the Indian shooter, Bindra was in for a shock when his first shot during the sighting time -- five minutes before the event when the shooters get to fine-tune their equipment -- was a 4. 

“I am stunned. I haven’t shot a 4 since I was 13 years old,” he said. 

At a time when he was supposed to be ready, his rifle aligned well and the sight fixed, the Indian shooter faced a rather difficult situation. 

While panic set in, Bindra and coach Buhlmann ensured that they figured out a solution soon and a 9.2 on his final shot before the final reassured that the Indian was on track. 

“I do some rapid math, tighten the sight five-six times and tell myself: it’s too late, it’s time to execute. My first shot of the final is a 10.7. I laugh inside,” he recalled.

The Chinese pellets 

In shooting, the ammunition is as important as the weapon. Even the minute variation tends to have a say in the shot taken. This was one of the primary reasons that Abhinav Bindra was keen to fire with Chinese pellets.

बीजिंग ओलंपिक में स्वर्ण पदक जीतने के बाद खुशी का इजहार करते निशानेबाज अभिनव बिंद्रा

In one of the arbitrary tests that the Indian shooter had conducted with German and Chinese pellets, the latter performed better. And Abhinav Bindra was sold on the idea of using those heading in the Games in 2008. 

But with the Games being held in the country, the Chinese manufacturer was reluctant to sell the pellets to Bindra, a competitor. 

Consequently, the Indian ace then reached out to a friend in Hong Kong and got 10,000 rounds of those Chinese pellets delivered to him. 

“Every pellet was weighed by me on a sensitive scale, then studied under a magnifying glass. If there was a bulge or a scratch on the nose, into the dustbin it went.

“It had an effect on accuracy. When I won the gold in Beijing, I used those pellets,” he said.