Shooting is a sport that requires unflinching levels of concentration. The tiniest fraction of a millisecond can be the difference between a podium spot and a lacklustre finish.
Illustrious Indian shooter Abhinav Bindra is an epitome of concentration. His success at the Olympics is a testament to that.
Bindra broke into the Olympics scene at the age of 15 when he became the youngest Indian participant at Sydney in 2000. It was a character-building year for him as he finished with a score of 590 in the 10m Air Rifle event which resulted in an 11th-placed finish in the qualification round, missing out on a spot in the finals.
The Athens 2004 Olympics marked a strong comeback for Bindra as he scored 694.6 to finish in the seventh spot. After years of perseverance and dedication, Bindra finally got his reward when he shot an immaculate 700.5 to clinch the gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
The moment when the Indian flag rose up and the national anthem was sung at the Olympics after Bindra became the first individual gold medallist for the country was nothing short of iconic. Incidentally, it was also the first gold medal for India since 1980, when the men's hockey team beat Spain to clinch the top spot.
But it did not come easy for Bindra. He was drawn to the sport at a time when he had fitness issues and hated his physical education classes. And shooting, as a sport, appealed to him, given that not much physical movement was required. But that was the main challenge, explains the 38-year-old.
Bindra said that although the human body is built to move, trying to remain still was an obstacle. He explained that given the fine margins at play, mental conditioning is extremely important for shooters.
"The human body is built to move and when you're trying to move, it is a very challenging thing to do." - Abhinav Bindra
"Just try and stand on one leg and close your eyes to see how tough it is to keep still. When it comes to tough situations, especially when it comes to shooting, when you enter the Olympic final and one-shot is going to decide you're going to win the Olympic medal or not," Bindra explained during an interview at the Techfest at IIT Bombay.
He touched upon the importance of mental fitness and explained how important stability and balance is when you are trying to shoot in between your heartbeats.
"The heart is going to start beating very fast and if you are not fit, your heart will shoot up to uncontrollable levels. And in a sport like shooting, we try and shoot in between heartbeats. So if your heart is beating in 200 beats per minute, it can become very very challenging. So having a great amount of conditioning is equally important. Stability and balance are also important," he added.
Bindra went on to reveal his thought process during that fateful final round of the 10m Air Rifle event at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Bindra, who was tied with Finnish shooter Henri Hakkinen going into the final round, saved his best shot for that opportune moment. He shot a near-perfect 10.8 to clinch the gold while Hakkinen could only score 9.7 and had to settle for bronze.
“The idea was to live it at the moment. I was not shooting one Olympic competition that day. I was shooting 60 competitions in qualification because our qualification has 60 shots. And I was shooting 10 competitions in the final because our final has 10 shots. I really tried to stay in the moment. It was really about complete detachment from the outcome and getting immersed in the performance.
“The last shot was something that was well prepared for because you know in sport, you often require tactics. Every shot is a competition and every shot brings its new challenges which you quickly adapt to. Of course, there was a certain amount of awareness that this is the last shot and I need a good closure to the competition. But again, it was well trained for. There was a clear strategy in place. It was thrilling to shoot my best shot then."
Bindra has clinched over 150 medals in his 22-year long career. His last Olympic appearance came in 2016 where he finished fourth in the 10m Air Rifle event. He also served as the goodwill ambassador to the Indian contingent for the 2016 Olympics.
Bindra has also bagged a gold in the World Shooting Championship and has won four Commonwealth Games gold medals.