Monday, August 11, 2008

Abhinav Bindra wins India's first individual Olympic gold medal

This is simply awesome. This is history. This is India rising in Beijing.

Abhinav Bindra won India's first individual Olympic gold medal on Monday with a breathtaking come-from-behind victory in the men's 10m air rifle.

Bindra was fourth after qualifying but had a brilliant final round and the Indian, described by the Reuters reporter on the scene as the epitome of tranquillity, hit a near perfect 10.8 on his last shot to pull in front of Henri Hakkinen of Finland, who fell to bronze with a poor final shot.

That late stumble by the Finn allowed China's Zhu Qinan, the defending Olympic champion and heavy favourite, to salvage a bitter day with silver. Zhu sobbed uncontrollably on the podium and again at a news conference.

"I can't describe how happy I am," the ever-calm Bindra told journalists. "It's the thrill of my life. That's about it. It's hard to describe. I just went for it. I knew I was lying in fourth. Thankfully it went my way and I just went for it."

Zhu suffered a lapse in concentration in the qualification earlier when he had to rush his final shots to make the time limit, dropping to second behind Hakkinen ahead of the final.

"I was under tremendous pressure and at times I felt really agitated," Zhu said just before stepping on the podium and breaking down in tears. "But I tried my best."

Moments later at the news conference Zhu was crying harder.

"I've been through a lot of hardship and shed a lot of tears in the last four years, there have been successes and failures," he said. "After 2004 my only aim has not changed. I had so very much wanted to be a champion at the Beijing Olympics."

He added: "In the last two rounds I made several mistakes because I had used up all my physical and mental energy."

Bindra, who faced criticism for failing to deliver on the great promise he showed as a child, said he was not thinking about making history in India with a first individual gold medal. In fact, he said, he was "not thinking about anything".

"I was just trying to concentrate on shooting," he said. "I wasn't thinking of making history. I was two points behind the leaders. I was just trying to shoot good shots. I wanted to shoot well and shoot aggressively. And that's what I did."

His 10.8 of a possible 10.9 on his final shot sparked loud celebrations from group of fans from India.

Hakkinen, who was even with Bindra before his mere 9.7 on his last shot, said that crucial shot felt like the nine before it.

"It just wasn't my turn," he said. "It shows that shooting is a sport from the first to the final shot. Every one counts."

Randhir Singh, Indian Olympic Association secretary-general and former shooter who was present at the range, was stricken by nerves as the competition reached its climax.

"I haven't prayed so much in my life. With the second last shot they tied together and then he (Bindra) shot a 10.8. It couldn't have got better," he told Indian television.

Bindra won the 2006 world championships and finished seventh in Athens four years ago.

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