Awards, accolades as Bindra bags first individual Olympic gold (Roundup)

August 11th, 2008 - 8:44 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Abhinav Bindra

Beijing/Chandigarh/New Delhi (IANS) Abhinav Bindra hit bull’s eye in Beijing Monday winning top honours in the air rifle event and India’s first individual Olympic gold medal, sending his billion strong nation into celebration mode with the president and prime minister joining in to congratulate him for realising their dreams. The accolades came in thick and fast, and so did the cash rewards for India’s golden boy from Chandigarh who had shot into history.

Keeping his composure in a crunch situation, the 25-year-old rifleman came up with a near perfect 10.8 in his final shot to ensure a top podium finish in the 10-metre air rifle event at the Beijing Shooting Range Hall.

Bindra’s gold came 28 years after India last won it at the 1980 Moscow Olympics when the men’s hockey team came on top of the heap.

Bindra shot the best series of final 10 shots for 104.5 and a total of 700.5 on way to his golden finish.

It was a fairytale ending for someone who a year ago was not sure whether he would ever lift a rifle, let along go to the Olympics.

After the Athens Olympics, the Chandigarh boy was immobilised by a severe back problem and there were doubts whether it was worth the effort to carry on with his passion of shooting despite all the pain.

“For me the last four years have been tough. After Athens it was hard to take the plunge all over again. But I decided to take it. I worked hard and went for it. There’s not much to say except that you keep at it, and at it. One day it falls in your hand. That’s what happened.”

Going into the final, Bindra said matter-of-factly: “I wasn’t thinking about history. I was two points behind the leader. I just wanted to shoot and I wanted to shoot aggressively and that’s what I did.”

And as he did that, people ran into streets in many Indian cities and towns waving the tricolour and distributing sweets to hail India’s first Olympic gold medallist.

Surrounded by friends and fans at their farmhouse near Chandigarh, the twin capital of Punjab and Haryana, proud parents Babli and A.S. Bindra could not hide their joy.

“My son has proved that ‘Singh is King’ in a real sense! He has brought laurels for the whole Sikh community and for the whole nation,” said father A.S. Bindra.

“I had sent him an SMS in the morning, ‘Abhinav you can do it, go for it’, but I am sure he must have not seen it. On hearing the results, I was breathless and started screaming in joy,” his beaming mother Babli told IANS.

The emotive note was echoed by President Pratibha Patil who said in her message: “I am extremely delighted and proud to hear today that you have realised the dream of a billion of our people.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh added of the “spectacular achievement”: “I hope that this feat will inspire you and other sportspersons of our country to achieve the highest levels of excellence in the international arena.”

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, cabinet ministers and opposition leaders were amongst the others who joined the nation in commending Bindra for his achievement.

In Beijing, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) chief Suresh Kalmadi and Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs M.S. Gill hailed Abhinav as India’s latest sporting icon.

“It’s a great day in the history of Indian sports. Finally, we have won an individual gold… (The) youth in the country have got a new icon in Abhinav Bindra. I hope they will now be drawn more towards Olympic sports,” said Kalmadi.

India’s leading sport icons applauded his feat.

Kapil Dev, who in 1983 led India to its first World Cup victory in cricket - the nation’s most popular game - said: “Bindra has done the country proud. This is far bigger than any other sporting achievement. It is difficult to compare India’s sporting laurels but I think this one has eclipsed all other feats.”

Bindra’s gold haul was followed by announcements of cash rewards from state governments.

Punjab announced a cash reward of Rs.10 million (Rs.1 crore) for the shooter in line with its sports policy. Neighbouring Haryana too announced a reward of Rs.2.5 million (Rs.25 lakh) and the Chandigarh administration announced another cash reward of Rs.500,000 for him. Karnataka will honour him with a cash prize of Rs.1 million and Madhya Pradesh with Rs.500,000.

Bindra’s bank balance can only go up from here, as the sports management firm that handles his affairs estimates he can charge at least Rs.20 million ($500,000) per product endorsement.

“I don’t see any reason why Bindra shouldn’t make at least a couple of crores (tens of millions of rupees) now,” said Latika Khaneja, director of Collage Sports Management, the firm representing the shooting ace.

“He is young, good looking and has a photogenic face. All of these factors count for signing up decent contracts,” said another advertising professional who has been dealing with celebrity endorsements.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad also chipped in, announcing a lifetime of free travel on Air-Conditioned First Class with a companion.

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