June 06, 2020
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Loneliness On The Podium

The most outstanding book on an Indian sportsperson that I have ever read.

Loneliness On The Podium
A Shot At History: My Obsessive Journey To Olympic Gold
By Abhinav Bindra and Rohit Brijnath
HarperCollins | Pages: 224 | Rs. 399

For a master of sports writing like Rohit Brijnath to be given the freedom to write on a complex and golden subject like Abhinav Bindra makes for the most outstanding book on an Indian sportsperson that I have ever read.

As both Bindra and Brijnath know so well, we never thought an Olympic individual gold could be won by an Indian—“It becomes an insinuation of mediocrity, it corrodes ambitions, it settles like a psychological weight in the athletic mind”. And then, Bindra did it.

It is all there, the angst and the agony, those early days in Europe, travelling from one lonely competition to anot-her, silently shooting his way up the ladder, only to fail at the Athens Olympics. The sacrifices, the coaches who drove him and denied him, the loneliness of a striving athlete, and the final round in Beijing—the decimals and the doubt. And then that moment, when Bindra was not sure whether the gold was truly his.

Brijnath doesn’t gloss over Bindra’s insecurities—the way Indian officials failed in their basic responsibility of inspiring an athlete; how his family stood by him from the beginning to the ultimate golden moment, which was only another beginning.

I could not understand why Bindra went into his shell after winning gold. I now realise emotion was the key to the decision.

The book also dwells on the subtle secrets of shooting—the breathing, the tension, the vision, the minute adjustments in sight and sense and stock and trigger and pellet, how a millimetre can mean the difference between victory and defeat. It’s a story of how a young boy transformed himself into a champion, the journey a maze of ego and desire, of frailty and fear and final glory. This book, in its often bitter truth, maps the journey as never before.

Once, long back, I was invited to the school Bindra attended, Riverdale School in Dehra Dun, where I said that I hoped some day a student from the school would win an Olympic individual gold. Riverdale is a school which encourages sport, especially table tennis. These are the small things—a school which has the vision to let its students pursue their individual sporting dreams—which makes the journey possible for a champion.

Two small corrections: the book says that Jadhav won the bronze in wrestling at the ’56 games, and that Sriram Singh came fifth at the Montreal Games in the 800 m. But it was at the ’52 games that Jadhav won India’s first individual medal, and the great Sriram came seventh at the ’76 Games, but with a timing of 1:45.77, which is still of international standard.

I had been disappointed with Bindra. I could not understand why he went into his shell after winning the gold. But after reading the book, even if the logic did not become any clearer, I realised that emotion, not logic, was the key to understanding his decision. After all, it was his decisions that led him to gold, and if his decision now was to recede and relax, we can only respect it.

Bindra is now aiming for the London Olympic games. He has qualified for them—only one shooter has ever repeated his gold medal win at the Olympics, will Bindra be the second? He just might and then Brijnath will have another story to tell.

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