Abhinav Bindra: The man who struck gold with an 'altered' rifle

(L-R) Silver medallist Zhu Qinan of People's Republic of China, gold medallist Abhinav Bindra of India and bronze medallist Henri Hakkinen of Finland pose after the Men's 10m Air Rifle Final during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
(L-R) Silver medallist Zhu Qinan of People's Republic of China, gold medallist Abhinav Bindra of India and bronze medallist Henri Hakkinen of Finland pose after the Men's 10m Air Rifle Final during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Olympic Games are full of champions, records and stories, but they’re also an incredible encyclopaedia of strange, funny, emotional and sad moments. We’ll dig some out every week to put a smile on your face or a tear in your eye. This week: Abhinav Bindra's historic win at the Beijing 2008 Games.

The background

Despite being a nation of over a billion people, India was still chasing individual gold at the Olympics leading up to Beijing 2008. While the entire Indian subcontinent was craving success on the world's biggest stage, a shy and introvert 25-year-old rifle shooter by the name of Abhinav Bindra was quietly setting the stage to alter the course of Indian sporting history.

Born in the quaint Indian town of Dehradun in 1982, Bindra was not interested in outdoor pursuits like cricket, football or hockey. Somehow, the shooting range turned out to be the place where he came into his own - and he proved to be more than a child prodigy.

At just 15, Bindra made the cut to be part of India's shooting contingent at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and also went on to qualify for Sydney 2000 in the 10m air rifle event. The entire shooting world began to take notice of his talent with gold medals at the 2002 and 2006 Commonwealth Games, as well as the World Championship in 2006.

Despite setting a new Olympic record in the qualification round (scoring 597/600), Bindra would miss out on an Olympic medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics by shooting below 100 in the final.

The finals

In the run up to the Beijing 2008, Bindra faced an injury battle. However, with his determination and meticulous approach, nothing deterred him. Somewhere at the back of his mind, Bindra knew that Beijing was his best shot at Olympic medal after returning empty-handed from Sydney and Athens.

Bindra got off to a flying start in the 10m air rifle event and scored 597 points to finish fourth. He was in a good frame of mind, but just minutes before the final he realised that the sight of the rifle had been "altered".

"Just five minutes before the big final, I realised that the sight of my gun had been altered just a little bit. There was complete panic that was running through my head, but funnily enough, going into Beijing I had also trained for it," he said recalling the final.

The greatness of an athlete lies in their ability to step up to the plate in face of such adversity - and there was Bindra, fighting to earn his first medal at the Games, and now staring in the 'altered' rifle in his hand.

Waiting to pounce on every mistake was People's Republic of China's ZHU Qinan, the defending Olympic champion, who was in sensational form with the crowd cheering his every move.

An altered rifle, panic running through his mind, and a world class opponent - everything was stacked up against Bindra, but in an astonishing turn of events he shot above 10 in all rounds and ended with a flawless shot of 10.8 to clinch the gold.

His scores in the final read: 10.7, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5, 10.5, 10.5, 10.6, 10.0, 10.2 and 10.8.

"Those 10 shots, they were magical. Stability, timing, execution, they were the best shots of my life… I knew: I could not shoot better," he recalled.

Abhinav Bindra of India reacts after winning the gold medal in the Men's 10m Air Rifle Final at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Abhinav Bindra of India reacts after winning the gold medal in the Men's 10m Air Rifle Final at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
2008 Getty Images

The outcome

Bindra's feat at Beijing 2008 remains unconquered in Indian sport. To this day, he is still the nation's only individual Olympic gold medallist. Luck might not have always have been on his side in Beijing, but Bindra's genius and dedication helped him etch his name in sporting history.

After clinching gold in Beijing, Bindra continued his impressive form winning medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. His swansong at Rio 2016 also came in dramatic fashion as he missed out on a medal by a whisker, finishing fourth in the 10m air rifle.

As a man who has dedicated his entire life to shooting, Bindra has no regrets about his career. However, despite clinching gold, he still wonders how is rifle could have changed before the 2008 final.