Abhinav Bindra and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore were the first athletes who won an Olympic medal in the shooting sport and opened the doors for the Indian sporting fraternity to take this sport seriously. With their wins, both Bindra and Rathore have etched their name in the history books.
One of the best and most successful shooters in India, Abhinav Bindra needs no introduction. With his historic performance at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, he became the first Indian individual Olympic gold medallist on August 11, 2008, and redefined shooting in India forever. Abhinav made his Commonwealth and Olympic debut At a very young age and his first breakthrough came in 2001 when he won a bronze medal at the Munich Cup. In the next few years, he achieved a milestone after another.
Having missed his chance for a medal at Athens 2004, Abhinav Bindra headed for the Beijing 2008 Olympics hungrier for success and won his gold for shooting 10m Air Rifle Final Men overcoming the likes of Zhu Quinan from China and Henri Hakkinen of Finland. The medals tally in his career remains over 150 in a span of 22 years and his illustrious career is a result of undying passion and commitment were given that he started shooting reluctantly when he was in school!
But very few know that it was Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s Olympic medal in 2004 that provided the spark that inspired India to win shooting medals in both of the following Olympic Games - Beijing 2008 and London 2012. Abhinav Bindra considers Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s medal at Athens as the inspiration for his gold medal in Beijing 2008.
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore
The army colonel, who served in Kargil during the 1999 war with Pakistan, made a gradual shift to sports shooting and saw his career culminate in a silver medal at Athens 2004, in the double trap category. But the real significance of Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s 2004 Olympics feat would set in only much later. Not only was his historic silver, India’s only Olympic medal at Athens 2004 but also the nation’s first individual silver - India had at best managed an individual bronze till then - and also its first Olympic medal in shooting.
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore first picked up the gun for sports purposes in 1998 when the Indian army decided to form a shooting team. It required intense concentration, discipline, and a sense of determination - areas where his army training helped.
Even though Shooting was not alien to Rathore, sports shooting was a different game as it was more to do with ‘precision’ rather than ‘target’ as he would later put it. Like, Abhinav Bindra who trained meticulously under coaches Heinz Reinkemeier, Gabriele Buhlmann, and Uwe Riesterer even undergoing commando training a week before the Games, Rathore too trained under former world champion Luca Marini, ex-Olympic champion, Russell Mark and Mauro Perazzi putting in an immense amount of hard work and dedication.
Cut to the present, Abhinav Bindra still plays an influential role in India's sports policies, while Rathore is busy sharpening his political skills. India has won four medals in shooting at the Olympics with Gagan Narang clinching the Bronze at the 2012 London Olympics in men’s 10m air rifle and Vijay Kumar, another army man, a Silver at the 2012 London Olympics in men’s 25m rapid fire pistol. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore started the happy trend with silver in Athens in 2004.
The future stars
Since then there has been a marked improvement and with the new crop of teenage shooters, the future looks bright. Several Indian shooters have since made their mark on the international stage with the likes of Jitu Rai, Heena Sidhu, Divyansh Singh Panwar, and Elavenil Valarivan climbing to world No. 1 in their respective categories.
In recent years, youngsters from India have shown promising performances, which proves them as eligible medal contestants in all forms of national and international shooting events. The pair of Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary have held world records while Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela have been consistent contenders in competitions. Para shooters such as Avani Lekhara, Srihari Devaraddi, Manish Narwal, and Rubina Francis have been performing consistently well, breaking world records and winning medals across the globe.
Last year, more than a decade after Rathore’s historic achievement, India sent its largest-ever shooting contingent to the Tokyo Olympics and the growth was made possible when he fired those shots at the Athens Games. Even though Indian youth shooters still need to win medals in Olympics, to complete the progression that India's early sports shooters started, with their demeanor, hard work, and sheer determination, India is sure of achieving this sooner than later.