I go back to 1996 when a young boy in a shimmering Mercedes Benz came at the Karni Singh shooting range in Delhi. My first impression — and that was the verdict of many others — was of another rich brat who just wanted to play with guns. Little did I know then that the 14-year-old would be my toughest competitor — and a friend — in the next couple of months.
As a shooter in the air rifle event, I happened to share the podium with Abhinav on many occasions. My first competition alongside Abhinav was the 1997 National Shooting Championship in Delhi. Abhinav shot 568 to win gold. I managed silver with 564. From 1996 to 2000, we were a core group of about five shooters who were dominating the scene.
Abhinav then opted to train abroad while the others in the camp struggled with the pathetic ranges and weather conditions in the country. Our next competition was the 2000 National Championship at Phillaur. He made us look like ants. He had 590-plus scores. We could barely manage 570-580.
He is a man of few words and this trait invariably goes against him. People say he is snobbish. But actually he is a warm guy. He has nerves of steel.
There is one incident I fondly remember. We participated in the Masters Shooting Meet in Mumbai (1999), where I won silver and he what else? — the gold. The winner got Rs 5,000 and the runner-up Rs 3,000. The envelopes got swapped. He first congratulated me and then asked for his envelope. That showed he valued his achievement, however small it was.
During a training camp in Bangalore he had advised me to change my rifle and buy a new one with a better technology which I did as he was training with the best in the world and was updated of all the new equipment available. He is very helpful and likes to share his knowledge and experience with other shooters.
We shot again at the World Cup in Korea (2003). In the morning of the match we met at the hotel lobby. The first question from him was if I had enough sleep to which I replied only three hours. I threw back the question to him and his reply was non. He has a very good sense of humor and can make tense situations very light but he likes to interact with a very few.
We did not want to waste time waiting for the official transportation or even for the shooting officials accompanying us so we decided to take the cab. Abhinav is a great one to make his own system of things to achieve better results.
I thought it was a free ride but on arrival at the range he quickly calculated and asked each one to pool in their share. He likes to keep things simple and straight. He talks also straight just like he shoots straight.
In the match he shot a 596/600 and missed the bronze by 0.1 point, finishing fourth back then also but was as usual very cool about it. I felt so bad that he missed a medal by the thinnest possible margin but he was quick to pack up and head back to the hotel.
Abhinav never liked wasting time at the range when he would not shoot he moved out quickly. Unlike so many other shooters I have seen in the last twenty years he did not socialize at the ranges. He came, shot and left.
He has been the most disciplined and hard working shooter I have ever come across in my very long association with this sport. At national camps he would even reach earlier than the reporting time. His name would always been on top in the entry register of the shooting range. Such was the standard of his discipline that even shooting officials had to raise their standard when Abhinav was around.
He commanded respect from one and all. While others at the range in order to be in good books would go and touch the feet of the senior shooting officials, he (Abhinav) would address them with Mr. or Mrs. that’s it. He always believed in letting his rifle do all the talking for him.
In 2004 Athens Olympics, he was in great form and shot so well to qualify for the finals but was unlucky to have got the firing point which had a faulty floor. This costed him a medal which he really wanted.
In 2006 he was dogged by a debilitating spinal injury that forced him to miss the 2006 Asian Games at Doha (Qatar). He had then thought of quitting shooting forever. But egged on by his doting father Dr A.S. Bindra and well wishers, Abhinav took up the gun and trained hard for the World Championship.
Abhinav fought against the crippling back problem to create history by becoming India’s first World Champion in 2006. In one stroke he had silenced his critics.
How serious Abhinav back problem was can be gauged from the fact that he took a year-long break. But he never complained.
Coming into Beijing, did anyone know about his preparations? Like a crouching tiger he slayed the dragon. Few shooters can claim to have clinched the World Championship and the Olympic Gold by the age of 25.
In Rio Abhinav shot like a crouching tiger once again, his hunger to win a medal was evident from the tag line on his twitter handle which read 2016 Olympic medal wannabe. Abhinav you lost the shoot-off but for me you are better than the best. You are the greatest Olympian for India. Thanks for all the glory.
The writer is a rifle shooter and founder of indianshooting.com. This column includes some excerpts from the writer’s column on Abhinav Bindra which appeared in Hindustan Times on 6th July 2008.