Since Beijing Olympics 2008, every time India have sent their Olympic contingent, there has been special interest around Abhinav Bindra. There has been pressure and expectations on the Indian Olympians to meet the standard set by Bindra.
The Rifle shooter etched his name in the annals of the country's sports in the summer of 2008, when he clinched independent India's first individual gold, doing so in the men's 10m Air Rifle.
With a day to go for Tokyo Olympics 2020, there couldn't be a better day to cherish Abhinav Bindra. Here's a look back at how Bindra has fared in his five appearances in Olympic Games:
Abhinav Bindra at Sydney Olympics 2000
Abhinav Bindra first represented India at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when he was only a teenager. In the documentary 'Legends Live On: India's Abhinav Bindra', he described his feelings of being at the Sydney Olympics:
"When I reached Sydney, I was like a boy in a candy store. I had child-like enthusiasm, I was in awe. For me it was unbeliveble to be a part of that event. "
The men's 10m Air Rifle event was scheduled for September 18, ten days before Abhinav Bindra's 18th birthday.
Bindra highlighted his class in the Qualification round. But his inexperience showed, as he managed a score of 590 to finish 11th, with the top eight shooters going through to the final.
Nedzad Fazlija of Bosnia and Herzegovina finished eighth in the Qualification round with a score of 591. That meant Abhinav Bindra missed the final by the slimmest of margins. In the documentary, sports journalist and writer Sharda Ugra described Abhinav Bindra's fate as follows:
"He missed the final in the Sydney (Olympics) by so little."
Abhinav Bindra's performance caught Sharda Ugra's eye. The journalist felt the 'boy' was something exceptional even though the youngster failed to reach the final in his maiden Olympics. Bindra returned to India with a lot of belief and confidence. The shooter felt that he belonged on the big stage.
Abhinav Bindra at Athens Olympics 2004
Abhinav Bindra made it to his second Summer Olympics at Athens 2004, where he represented India at the 10m Air Rifle event. But this time, he had a competitor from his own country in fellow rifle shooter Gagan Narang.
Before Athens, Bindra had stamped his authority at the event at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Bindra entered the Athens Olympics as a Commonwealth Games silver medalist in the 10m Air Rifle event. He had also claimed gold in the 10m Air Rifle (Pair) event with Sameer Ambekar.
Bindra was confident before his Athens sojourn. He said about it:
"I reached Athens probably in the best shape of my life. I wanted to win."
Bindra's improved mindest showed, as he did not repeat the mistakes of Sydney in the Qualification round. He was brilliant with his shots and finished third with a total of 597 points to qualify for the final. Meanwhile, Narang finished 12th, with 593 points, to miss the bus.
Abhinav Bindra was ready for the final and did not feel the jitters. In fact, he felt very 'alive' for the final, where he was a serious medal contender. Bindra himself felt that he had a realistic chance of finishing on the podium.
But things turned haywire for Bindra in the final. Here's how he recalled his final in Athens:
"It just happened, I shot the ten worst shots of my life, I just crumbled; something was not right."
In one of her recent columns, Sharda Ugra described Abhinav Bindra's performance in the Athens' 04 final as a 'meltdown'. So used to scoring in the high 9s, Abhinav Bindra only shot 8s to finish a lowly seventh.
Bindra described his failure as follows:
"It was heartbreaking, heartbreaking; my world had fallen apart."
Another Olympics ended for the shooter without a medal. So big was the shock that Bindra decided to move away from shooting and decided to retire from the sport.
Abhinav Bindra at Beijing Olympics 2008
Despite his failure in Athens, Abhinav Bindra did not give up. He learnt his lessons and became a stickler of details about everything connected to his sport. For the next Olympics, Abhinav Bindra focused on his diet, techniques to control his mind, and his shooting. Anything he felt, which could improve his game, he tried as Bindra became obsessed with perfection.
Before the Beijing Games, Abhinav Bindra yet again aced the Commonwealth Games. He returned with two medals from the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. He clinched gold in the 10m Air Rifle Pairs event and bronze in the 10m Air Rifle Singles. That same year, he won the World Championship in Zagreb.
The Beijing Olympics arrived, and expectations from Abhinav Bindra shot through the roof.
The shooter was feeling the pressure of having failed in his previous two appearances at the Olympics. Recalling the environment at the Beijing Olympics, Bindra said:
"It was a tough environment, but it was also motivational because I wanted to prove them: No we could do it; I had a job to do; I wanted to shoot the ten best shots of my life."
Abhinav Bindra yet again found countryman Gagan Narang competing against him. Bindra went through to the final after finishing fourth in the Qualification round with a total of 596 points. Gagan Narang accumulated 595 points and missed a final's berth by a whisker.
Bindra was ready for the final. He wanted to win this final. His determination showed in the ten shots he fired on the day. Bindra's scores in the final read as follows: 10.7, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5, 10.5, 10.5, 10.6, 10.0, 10.2 and 10.8.
But things were not very easy. The final was one for the ages, as it was decided on the last shot.
After nine shots apiece, Abhinav Bindra and Finland's Henri Häkkinen were tied on 698.7 points. It was a straight shootout for the gold. The man who could shoot closest to the bull's eye would walk away as the Olympic champion.
Bindra shot a stunning 10.8, while Häkkinen fumbled under pressure and shot 9.7. With a total of 700.5 points, Abhinav Bindra won the final. In the process, India had their first individual gold medalist. The wait for the country's maiden individual gold was over. A dream had been fulfilled.
Remembering his achievement, Bindra said:
"From within, I was so happy, I was so fulfilled. I achieved what I set out to do. All the sacrifices I made, all the belief that my family had in me, all the belief that my coaches had in me."
Between Athens and Beijing, Abhinav Bindra felt the pain, disappointment and heartbreak of near misses.
Between Beijing and London, Bindra felt a void. He had trained and focused all his life for an Olympic Gold. With the medal in his kitty, he felt drained and out of motivation. Bindra felt he was without a gold. But the champion that he was, Bindra fought against depression and prepared for the London Olympics.
Abhinav Bindra at London Olympics 2012
Between the Beijing Olympics and the London Olympics, Abhinav Bindra won the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold in 10m Air Rifle Pairs and silver in 10m Air Rifle Singles. He also won a silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games in the 10m Air Rifle Team event.
The London Olympics was the third successive Summer Games, where Abhinav Bindra found Gagan Narang competing against him. Based on pure numbers, the London Games turned out to be Bindra's worst show at an Olympics.
In the Qualifying Round, he managed only 594 points and was ranked 16th. Gagan Narang was third time lucky and qualified for the final with a total of 598 points. In the final, Narang shot well, collecting 701.1 points to claim the bronze.
Abhinav Bindra at Rio Olympics 2016
Ahead of the Rio Games in 2016, Abhinav Bindra had announced that it would be final appearance at the Olympics. So the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) decided to honour the champion shooter. The IOA made Bindra India's flag-bearer for the Opening ceremony.
Once the Opening ceremony was done with, Bindra focused on his event. In the Qualifying Round, he collected 625.7 points to go through to the final. But Bindra finished fourth in his last final to miss out on a second Olympic medal.
That ended Abhinav Bindra's incredible Olympic journey spanning five editions of the competition. Bindra concluded:
"I look back at my journey with incredible amount of fondness, with incredible amount of pride, and I absolutely had no regrets; it was about winning; it was about winning a sports event; it was a journey to know myself better, so I think more than an athlete, I was an explorer."