For the followers of the Olympic movement in India, August 11 remains a special day.
It was on this day in 2008 that Abhinav Bindra became first Indian individual Olympic gold medal winner.
A near-perfect 10.8 on his last shot in the men’s 10m Air Rifle event at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games helped the then 25-year-old become an Olympic champion.
It was a moment for which Abhinav Bindra, a very private individual, had rehearsed celebrations in his mind as a child. But on that day, it was a little different.
“In the Beijing hall, I felt a powerful peace,” he wrote in his autobiography, A Shot at History. “My hand was being shaken, my name said, the world was a daze.”
Taking the leap
Having missed his chance for a medal four years ago at Athens 2004, Abhinav Bindra headed for the Games in Beijing hungrier for success.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to win,” Bindra said. “But I knew I had the reserves needed to win because I had reached deep into myself and found them.”
The ‘reserves’ that Abhinav Bindra spoke about came from the meticulous preparation that he went through building up to the Beijing Games.
Abhinav Bindra spent a considerable amount of time in Dortmund, Germany, polishing his shooting skills under coaches Heinz Reinkemeier and Gabriele Buhlmann. He then went to Munich to meet coach Uwe Riesterer to try and overcome his fears of performing at the big stage.
Bindra rehearsed everything that he would do in Beijing, including his walk to the shooting area in ankle-high boots and his stance in a ‘mock finals’ that had Buhlmann making announcements just like at a shooting event.
Later, the Indian shooter underwent commando training a week before the Games too. It seemed to have worked,
“I arrived in Beijing without fear. Faith was always an issue with me, but this time, I had taken the leap I needed to find faith,” said the Indian rifle shooter.
An Indian Olympic champion rises
Confident of his talents, the four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist got through the qualification without much trouble even as his compatriot and Gagan Narang bowed out.
Abhinav Bindra faced some trouble during the sighting time - a five-minute window where the shooters get to shoot at the target to check the rifle - before the finals. His gun sight (aiming device) was off and he made frantic changes before he could sort it until the last moment.
He was calm after that and once the gold-medal round was on, Abhinav Bindra was in his zone.
The Indian ace was on the money from the first shot, shooting 10s and above through the finals as he pulled away from his competitors.
Finland’s Henri Häkkinen, who topped the qualification stage, was level with Abhinav Bindra till the final shot but fell short at the crucial time and scored 9.7 of his final shot. The Indian, meanwhile, shot a near-perfect 10.8.
The competition saw Abhinav Bindra finish the 10m Men’s Air Rifle with a score of 700.5, surpassing the Athens 2004 Olympics gold medallist Zhu Qinan, who had to settle for a silver. Abhinav Bindra had become the first Indian to win individual Olympic gold medal.
“Relief flooded my brain,” said India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist. “It’s the first emotion that releases as four years of investment have been validated. Then exhaustion settles in the bones, satisfaction embraces you and for a second even ecstasy comes.”
“Those 10 shots, they were magical. Stability, timing, execution, they were the best shots of my life… I knew: I could not shoot better,” said Abhinav Bindra, first Indian individual Olympic gold medal winner.
The gold at the Beijing Olympics is very special to the Indian sporting community. While it helped boost the profile of the sport, Abhinav Bindra’s achievements let many youngsters believe in their skills and take the sport at a professional level too.
With India's shooting team for the Tokyo Olympics bigger and better than ever, the legacy of the shots fired in Beijing by Bindra are as strong as ever.