Book Review: A shot at history

A Shot at History: My Obsessive Journey to Olympic Gold (Hardcover) by Abhinav Bindra, Rohit Brijnath

Publisher: Harper Sport (2011)

Price: Rs. 399

Sportspersons are known to tell compelling stories. Steve Waugh’s Out of My Comfort Zone, Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike and Andre Agassi’s Open, are some of the autobiographies that leave a lasting impression. Even if you don’t follow cycling, Armstong’s autobiography and his detailed description of his battle against cancer leaves you no choice but to admire both the man and the sport. Amongst Indian sportspersons, you can hardly think of any autobiographies that can be part of this elite league. That is, until you’ve read Abhinav Bindra’s biography. Co-authored by Rohit Brijnath, one of the best sportswriters of our generation, A Shot at History is a must read for any sports fan. With the London Olympics just around the corner, this book is a refreshing read and helps us appreciate how much preparation and effort goes into preparing for an event that comes only once in four years. It also covers the entire gamut of emotions that a sportsperson goes through depending on his/her performance on the big day.

If someone is able to pen an autobiography at the age of twenty eight, there must be something extremely special about that person. And becoming the first Indian to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics, certainly qualifies as something special. One of the best things about the book is its simplicity. Shooting is a relatively unknown sport in India and Bindra lays the foundation for the book by explaining the nuances of the sport. Once that is done, he chronicles the myriad events that he has participated in, explaining the various trials and tribulations he’s had to go through. Travelling the country first and then the world to improve his skills by competing against the best, Bindra followed his passion with a single-minded focus – a trait common to all champions.

The seeds of Bindra’s Olympic aspirations were sown during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where as a seventeen-year-old, he set himself the goal of capturing gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.  Bindra also explains his practice regiment routine down to the minutest detail. Although it is not a must for shooters, Bindra mentions that he pays specific attention to his physical fitness as he feels it has a direct impact on his concentration levels.The book also deals with the various emotions that he had to deal with from his loss (if one can call it that) at the Athens Olympics to his victory at the 2006 World Championships in Munich and finally the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This gives the reader a deep insight into what goes on in a champion’s mind and also makes us realize that one must think twice before nonchalantly passing judgment or criticizing a sportsperson.

I don’t intend to spill out all details over here, but there are a few incidents that definitely need a mention. In the book, Bindra has dedicated an entire chapter to the Indian official thanking him for nothing. An instance is cited from one of the National Junior Championships in Ahmedabad.  Bindra shot a perfect score (400/400) but the officials refused to recognize it saying it was just not possible! They struck out his scores from the record and gave the trophy to the person who was actually second. He also mentions various instances where federation officials really don’t care about athletes when they travel for tournaments across the world – the coach/officials get single occupancy rooms while athletes are asked to ‘adjust’ with three to four people in a room.

About his practice regime, the one incident that stood out was how he prepared for Beijing. Bindra has a shooting range at home which is a relatively small place. He wanted to recreate the atmosphere of a large shooting arena, similar to the one in Beijing. To explain, this he draws an analogy with Wimbledon where after playing on other courts when a player has to play a match on center court he is overawed by the place. To take care of this Bindra hired a wedding hall in Chandigarh for a day and converted it into his shooting range! This is similar to Sachin Tendulkar preparing himself to play Shane Warne by asking L Sivaramakrishnan to bowl continuously in the rough outside leg stump.

What also stands out in the book is how candidly Bindra talks about issues which you would never expect a champion to talk about. They are expected to build and maintain an aura of invincibility around them, but Bindra’s revelations show that he is human after all. He speaks about the six months after the Beijing Olympics where he took a break from shooting. After that he felt he hit a roadblock and did not know where his life was headed. It is similar to one becoming the CEO of a much-revered company at the age of 27. You keep asking yourself ‘What next?’ Bindra accepts the fact that it is akin to starting from scratch if he wants to defend his Olympic Gold at London. It takes a lot for a champion to accept a fact like that!

There has always been criticism leveled against Bindra that he’s reached so far thanks to his father’s money. Such allegations are completely baseless. His father’s money could only get him up to a certain level, and after that, it was his own hard work, focus and dedication that brought him to where he is today.

If you’re still not convinced, go pick up the book. It’s totally worth the read!

– Siddharth Raman