Abhinav Bindra has always been known for his sobriety. Even after becoming India's first-ever individual Olympic gold-medallist, he hardly displayed any emotion and went about accepting congratulations from others. But behind the inscrutable exterior, lies an intense personality.
How intense this personality is was revealed in an interview that the retired shooter gave to Olympic Channel. Talking about the mental travails he had to endure, Bindra mentioned his hard work and focus that led to the gold medal at Beijing.
"For 15 years of my life, I worked for one goal, for one dream and that was to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games," the 36-year old narrated. "One fine day, I had this gold medal in my pocket and from one day to other, I really didn't know what to do," he continued.
Struggles with lack of motivation
Bindra, who comes from a privileged background, was able to procure his own training facilities and worked hard to improve his game under various coaches. But, after his efforts culminated in the Olympic triumph of 2008, he found himself struggling to regain motivation.
"I lost all motivation and it was really tough. It was really tough to deal with success. It's not uncommon in athletes to go through this mental low phase when they are, actually, extremely successful. You are used to having a goal, you are used to working hard at it, pursuing that dream, pursuing that goal. And then, one day, it's all done and dusted," the five-time Olympian stated.
Something similar overtook Michael Phelps after his record haul of eight gold medals at Beijing Olympics. However, the American swimmer recovered his focus and went on to have successful appearances in two more Olympics.
In the case of the Indian shooter, he made up his mind to leave the sporting arena altogether. To regain peace of mind, Bindra chose meditation as the medium. But that path led him back to his original calling.
"It was at that time, I actually wanted to quit sport and move on to a different area in life and find a new ambition. I went on a 10-day meditation retreat which was a silent retreat where we had to meditate seven hours a day and we couldn't talk for 10 days," he revealed.
But that's when Bindra's passion for shooting got rekindled. "I was there with the intention of finding my next goal, finding my next path. I arrive at this retreat and for 10 days, I think about nothing else but how I can improve in my own performance. Actually, it was that realisation that I still loved the sport, I still loved the process of what I did that gave me the energy to pursue (further) my Olympic dream," the Padma Bhushan awardee explained.
Bindra went on to compete in both the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, missing the bronze in the latter event by a small margin. Since, Bindra's thoughts are even more shrouded by his calm demeanour than those of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, this insight into the mental struggles of the country's most successful individual Olympic sportsperson had is highly valuable. It shows that sports isn't just about physical training but also requires mental peace.