Pensive Rathore ponders future, questions perfection

August 12th, 2008 - 6:38 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Abhinav Bindra
By V. Krishnaswamy
Beijing, Aug 12 (IANS) Few sportsmen, if any, have shared the kind of rapport that Rajyavardhan Rathore has had with the media in the four years between Athens and Beijing Olympics. On Tuesday, it was not just the hero of 2004 who struggled to cope with his own failure of not making the finals, even the media was finding it difficult to ask questions they had never asked him before, like: ‘What went wrong’.

‘Chilly’ Rathore fought to keep his emotions in check. But having lived the last four years in the public eye and carrying billion expectations all alone, the 39-year-old Armyman was now feeling the pressure.

Rathore in recent months had fought the poor form and the demons within. “My scores had not been all that high, but I thought I could carry my score, as this was the Olympics and I do not feel pressure. Also my coaches had faith in me that I could do it.”

Success sometimes brings a swagger even in ordinary men’s life. But Rathore, a proud Army Officer, who had tasted success even before he made sport the all-consuming passion, was not so. He is the kind whose smiles are infectious and whose dreams inspire a country of perennial under-achievers in sports.

Despite his path-breaking Olympic medal and other countless successes, Rathore did not transform. He stayed accessible, articulate and a perfect ambassador for Indian sport.

He was trying hard to smile and answer questions, when he would rather lock himself behind closed doors and weep. The strongest of men are sometimes the most emotional, too.

“I guess you only fail in life, not after it,” Rathore said with tears welling in his eyes.

He added after a pause: “We all work hard. That’s the only thing in our hands. All the shooters who came here have worked hard and then we try and wait for the result.”

Never the one to give excuses, Rathore did not do so even today when the entire nation hoped for him to bring home another medal after Abhinav Bindra’s golden success.

“The conditions were alright. In our sport, the first target is not there when we shoot. We have to anticipate it. The first shot in target is so fast, that it is actually not there. We fire where there is no target. It is like taking a catch in cricket, you have to anticipate and put your hand where the ball will come. A slight hesitation and the target will be missed,” he explained the complications of his sport.

He went on: “The results show most of the top shooters did not post very high scores. I felt I could hold on to my score. But I could not read the targets very well. Primarily, we (he and his coaches) have not been able to do what we came here to achieve.”

If one felt, he was being hard on himself, wait for this. He was now even questioning his technique and beliefs.

Failure can do strange things. A man who strove for perfection was now questioning his search for it.

When asked about any change in technique, he said: “You always try for perfection. I have now learnt that there is no perfect technique. It is just your technique.”

When asked what the future held for him? Could he once again undertake the journey from Beijing to London, just as he had from Athens to Beijing?

Trying to answer in a second what men spend lives thinking about, Rathore for the first time had no answer. He turned back and walked off. It was not in a huff. It was a man, trying hard to keep himself together.

The media, usually heartless, was almost happy to let him go. No mikes and no scribes chased him. Everyone stood stunned.

But within a few more minute, Rathore, his face washed and sporting a brave smile was back.

“Sorry guys,” he said and even the most cynical melted.

Apologising for going off, he pondered over the future, the 2010 Commonwealth Games or the 2012 London Olympics. “I guess I need some days off and then decide. The first thing I really want is to be with my family. I want to spend time with my kids.”

On the crop that is currently around, he added: “We have produced a lot of shooters. We have a lot of shooters for 2010 CWG. I love being in sports and I can’t be away from it. I really don’t think I can.”

The talk moved away from sports and when asked whether his pre-eminent position in Indian sport as the man who showed the way four years ago put pressure on him or did it give him satisfaction, Rathore said: “It gives me immense satisfaction. I have always felt that at the end of life, I wanted to say that I have lived my life well, not just for myself but also for others.”

Talking about a sportsman’s lifestyle, he added: “It is a difficult lifestyle. It is a kind of a selfish, carefree life.”

Living away and training hard, cutting one off from all else is something sportsmen think is necessary for success.

But now, it was apparent that after months of wandering in the wilderness, as it were, searching for perfection that was not to be, and for a medal that deserted him here, he wanted more mundane things in life, like his family, his kids and a life away from a shooting range.

For the present, there was a new icon walking close by. A certain shooter answering to the name of Abhinav Bindra, with a gold medal under his belt, giving bytes to the media.

And yesterday’s hero Rathore was walking back to the locker room to pick up the pieces.

Alas, sport can be cruel.

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