By V Krishnaswamy
Bindra showed promise from an early age
Ace shooter Abhinav Bindra, India's first individual Olympic gold medallist, says he has been "punching holes on black paper" for the last 10 years.
This obsession fetched the reticent 25-year-old a gold medal in the men's 10m air rifle shooting contest on Monday in Beijing.
Bindra was a child prodigy, representing India at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, while just 16.
In 2000, he was not yet 18 years old, when he went to the Sydney Olympics. He was the youngest in the contingent.
But within a year he was winning medals around the world and in 2002 he became a Commonwealth Games gold medallist.
Not the most loquacious of speakers, Bindra does write an occasional blog.
Four days ago, he wrote: "So yesterday was the welcoming ceremony where they officially raise the flag in front of your building and play the national anthem... it is really an emotional moment especially for us athletes who have early events and never attend the opening ceremony.
"So for us in some way this was the small and intimate 'cutting of the ribbon' and makes you feel proud that you are representing an entity so much larger than self."
The anthem has been played for his winning the gold medal. And he can be satisfied that what he had come for has been attained and a new chapter in Indian sports history has been penned.
Aiming for gold medals, Bindra did shoot down World Cup medals of lesser hue in 2001 and 2003.
The flurry of medals in Europe and elsewhere in 2001 and 2002, too, marked him out to be a champion waiting to blossom.
Even then it might have seemed a trifle too early for him to be conferred with India's highest sporting award - the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award.
Abhinav Bindra beat Olympic champion Zhu Qinan to the gold
Four years ago, Bindra, looked all set for an Olympic medal.
He strolled into the final at Athens with a score of 597 out of 600 and was third. He was shooting like a dream and looked cool as a cucumber.
But in the final, things didn't go his way. He shot his worst series of the day and crashed to seventh position.
Questions arose about his ability to take the pressure of a final.
After the event at Athens, the youngster denied being under pressure, but did say: "An Olympic medal is my goal and I will not be satisfied till I get it."
The next two years were a struggle, first to keep going with the same level of determination after the Athens agony.
Then he had a struggle with his back, which was giving him a lot of problems.
It was a situation where he had to ask himself whether he wanted to shoot at all with so much pain. He did get to the World Championships in Zagreb, Croatia, in 2006 despite the pain.
And he held his nerve in the crucial final, which he entered as a joint leader in the qualification round. Into the final, needing a shot close to perfection, he achieved just that and became the first Indian to win a World Championship gold medal.
The back problem had now assumed career-threatening proportions.
He opted out of the Asian Games in Doha to keep his Olympic dream going for he had booked his berth to Beijing by winning the Zagreb gold.
Abhinav had every facility at his beck and call - his family in the northern state of Punjab has spent millions of rupees to fuel his dream of an Olympic medal.
Bindra with his coach
Maybe that added to the pressure on the young man, who seldom smiles or drops his calm look.
Yet, he did have the determination, which those close to him saw and which prompted his father, AS Bindra, to liken his own son a "silent killer".
His affluent family - he himself runs one of the businesses, Abhinav Futuristics, named after him - backed him to the extent that he had a private shooting range at home.
His father spared no effort to ensure the best of everything from equipment to coaches to training stints and tournaments for exposure.
The government, too, kept faith in him with a number of grants.
Asked how his life would change after the gold medal, Bindra says: "For me life will go on. I sincerely hope that it changes how Olympic sports is viewed in India.
"Right now Olympic sports don't seem to be priority and I hope that changes. As for shooting, I am sure it will grow stronger from here."