Abhinav Bindra’s obsessive journey to Olympic Gold- A Shot at History

Aaditya Tiwari
6 min readDec 17, 2016

Abhinav Bindra’s biography co-authored by Rohit Brijnath is a must read for anyone who pursues excellence in any field of his life.

Harsha Bhogle in his speech at IIM-A, which went viral later, talks of the importance of the path towards excellence, importance of the process. While reading this gripping tale of Abhinav Bindra’s journey towards gold, one almost tends to live that very process. You get so involved with his obsession that his journey almost becomes yours. Almost because at the back of your mind you know one must be mad to get into such intricate details.

After reading this book, personally I now have more respect for every Indian sportsperson who gets up everyday in the morning & toils to perfect their skill, despite not knowing how this will take them to the pinnacle of their sport, despite an unfriendly and most of the times hostile staff, despite the second class status they get in a country where Cricket happens to be the first among sports, despite a culture which thinks ‘kheloge koodoge hoge kharab’, despite all this they pursue their sport….for that for them is pure love.

Here I have tried to compile some of the lines from his book which I found were interesting or inspirational.

  1. Uwe Riesterer, Abhinav’s German coach believes Indians handle expectation differently. His generalization goes: Constantly tell an American he’s the best, and he will saunter into the arena and say ‘Let’s kick ass and beat the hell out of everyone.’ Tell an Indian he’s the best and he tends to be defensive: ‘I am the best, I better not make a mistake.’
  2. Later, I understood that my journey was more complicated and that fame was shallow. Fame doesn’t last, it cannot stand in comparison to the pursuit of excellence.
  3. Not changing a winning game, or altering a winning team, is a flawed theory for it suggests a game, or team, cannot get better. It is untrue. Everyone can get better and they have to because everyone else is getting better. Great athletes interrogate themselves, review their games, it is precisely how they avoid stagnancy.
  4. ….But in sport, even a novice can offer a lesson…..And it was this: Finish the job.
  5. Deserving is a fair question, deserving should be rigorously debated. Awards are nice as long as in India we’re careful not to devalue them. Arjuna Awards were occasionally dispensed like out of a vending machine and the more freely we disperse them, the less valuable they become. Pure performance, over time, should determine awards, not sad lobbying by officials in dusty association rooms.(after Abhinav edged out the likes of Anjali Bhagwat, Mahesh Bhupati, MC Mary Kom for being awarded Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2001.)
  6. …..Respect is overstated and argument is discouraged by coaches(in India). Athletes are not shown answers but their place.
  7. …..it reflected well on a US system that did not see the athlete as simply a victory machine; it acknowledged the reality that success has no guarantee.
  8. In his preparation for Olympics, words printed at the US Olympic Center: It’s not every four years. It’s every day.
  9. ….I was so in love with my shooting, so certain of its greatness, that I fell for sports’ oldest trick. The lure of overconfidence.
  10. You lose, you keep quiet, you swallow your excuses, it’s the rule. Winning is the only licence to talk in sport.
  11. Be focused but not intolerant. Be flexible (and reassess!), don’t be stubborn and self centered…. (letter from his coach)
  12. My talent in an opinion, an idea; I am trying to translate it into an unarguable fact.
  13. On shooting’s best days, you don’t even know where you are. You are so far inside yourself, are so one with your craft, that everything else fades. You hear nothing, neither advice nor heckle; you feel nothing, no apprehension or confusion; you see nothing but the target, and even then only the bullseye.
  14. …One shot remained, one trigger pull from greatness.
  15. No, we’re mostly too nervous to think of anything but survival. Yet you can’t win by trying to survive, and it’s a struggle to find that balance as you careen between fear, anticipation, desperation, resolve.
  16. Sport, and this is its particular beauty and cruelty all at once, has no memory. Yesterday matters for it gives you confidence and yet yesterday is irrelevant.
  17. For me to win in Beijing I need to be a wolf, hungry and on the hunt.
  18. The medal is for the moment, reward for two hours of shooting. But for the athlete it’s not the moment of victory that matters, for it’s taken him more than two hours. It’s taken four years, probably eight, it’s taken 250 international flights, 600 moments of ‘I can’t do this,’ hundreds of technical changes, fifty tastes of defeat, four to five nervous vomits. It’s taken internal struggle, psychology books, patient coaches. It’s a dream taken and dipped into sweat to become reality. All that is more meaningful to the athlete.
  19. Sweat and desire is never a sexy answer, but eventually, if you distill greatness, often this is what it is.
  20. I spoke because I wanted athletes to believe. I wanted boxers in dimly-lit municipality gyms, badminton players in small towns where the lines are fading into the cement, young runners on dusty ovals in forgotten districts, wrestlers in muddy akharas, to believe. That struggle is worth it. That dreaming is imperative. That winning Olympic is not beyond us.
  21. ……much of television journalism in India is nothing but an excitable dance with facts.
  22. ….I believe in hard work, I relish it, I know no other way.
  23. The irony of sport in our country is that officials don’t assist, they hinder. Ignorance is worn without embarrassment, incompetence continues almost without interruption.
  24. …It is why athletes often touch the feet of officials in India. I am traditional Indian, but that seems plain wrong. As if the athlete is accepting his future lies in official hands, instead of in pure performance.
  25. …Chinese contingent apparently arrived with eight foreign coaches. To be the best, they got the best. It’s always been their way. Greatness, they understood, comes only with humility.
  26. If a city craves beautification, if it desires roads, a shining airport, a sparkling Metro, it should not require the excuse of a Commonwealth Games to do it.
  27. …I learnt enough to win Olympic Gold. Learnt to go deaf to everything, including my pounding heart; learnt to go blind to everything, except the black blob of a target before me; learnt to find calm amidst chaos. When the time to win comes, it’s as if a mutiny begins within your body, but if you’ve suffered in practice, you don’t fall apart. Pain brings trust.
  28. Winning demands honesty, a sneering at the short cut. It allows no fooling of the self. I wear one fact like a badge: I have never been late for practice.
  29. It is in committing to discipline, in offering sacrifice, in wearing disadvantage, that heroism lies. It is in the boxer waking at dawn to punish himself, the weightlifter scraping her throat as she hauls up a bar over her hear, all of them, every morning, trying to be that simplest of things: the best they can be.
  30. As a boy I’d hurl my gun and say, ‘ I want to quit,’ even if I said it more in petulance than with any serious intent. But boys don’t understand mortality, boys have no sense of fraying talents, boys don’t know that victories run out. But men do.
    I have only so many more pellets to fire, only so many tournaments to attend, only so many chances left to win, and it is an unsettling, emotional truth. I love shooting now. I love it, you see, because I know soon there will be no more shooting.

(Excerpts from the book A Shot at History: My obsessive journey to Olympic Gold by Abhinav Bindra and Rohit Brijnath.)



Aaditya Tiwari

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