It was a moment the country wasn’t prepared for. Abhinav Bindra walked back slowly, waving at the spectators, for one final time at the Olympic Shooting Centre in Rio. He had just missed out on a medal, finishing fourth in the 10m air rifle final following a pulsating shoot-off in what was his last competitive event. Eight years ago he had breathed hope and belief into a nation with his individual gold Olympic medal, a feat considered near improbable till then.
Making his fifth and final Olympic appearance, Bindra, 33, was in the medal hunt from the start of the final, for which he had qualified in seventh position, goaded by vociferous Indian support in the stands. Ahead of the qualification round that morning, Bindra’s gun sighter broke, forcing him to use a spare for the event. He scored an impressive 10.7 in his eleventh shot to move into the second spot, raising hopes of yet another medal. Soon tied on 163.6 after 16 shots with Ukraine’s Serhiy Kulish, the eventual silver medallist, Bindra shot a 10.0, with his rival responding with a 10.5. The arena let out a gasp. It was over.
“I did a good job, made the final and even hit some good shots in the final,” he said later. “Somebody had to be fourth, and it’s me. Maybe next time [Tokyo 2020] I’ll come as a journalist if anybody gives me a job.”
For someone who had nurtured his craft with the precision and meticulousness of a scientist, the ending seemed harsh, almost brutal. Bindra was hurting, but he had made peace with his decision to walk away from the sport. “I’m converting my shooting range into a garden,” he said with a hint of a playful smile.