Abhinav Bindra steps on to what looks like your regular treadmill in the basement of his office in Chandigarh. Except, this isn’t any ordinary treadmill, and Bindra isn’t an ordinary man. Less than three months after his last competition, the 10m Air Rifle final at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he finished an agonizing fourth, India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist is down to business. The 33-year-old has set up a state-of-the-art high-performance centre in the basement of the Abhinav Bindra Foundation office. With five “revolutionary” fitness and training systems (totalling around Rs3 crore), he has spent approximately Rs4.5 crore on the centre. It’s going to be available to elite athletes, who can train, assess their training, and then re-train according to the assessment—all free of cost—once registrations begin.
In 30 seconds, one of the “smart” pieces of equipment reads Bindra’s body. A large TV screen attached in front of the treadmill and a 3D camera tells us through a bunch of numbers that Bindra’s body balance and equilibrium are near perfect. “He’s too good. Perfect, almost like a robot,” says Stefano Marcandelli, chief executive officer (CEO) of Tecnobody, the Italian company that has set up the systems in Bindra’s Chandigarh office.
To put it simply, Bindra is in top shape, and for an elite athlete, that’s a great sign and a must. Bindra does not put more load on one side of his body. The muscles in his body, his entire arm and back especially, given that he’s a shooter, are functioning in perfect sync. The science behind it is fascinating. Complex at first look, but not so difficult once you’ve got the hang of it.
To understand what this kind of technology really can do for an athlete, this reporter tried out one of the machines that assesses the balance and equilibrium of the user’s pelvic area. The equipment required me to sit on what looks like a tool, and move my pelvis clockwise and anti-clockwise a few times. The screen in front displays my pelvic muscles, which look like blue concentric circles to the normal eye, but each muscle in every one of those circles has a number. As I move, first clockwise, then anti-clockwise, the screen in front promptly exposes my lack of balance. My movement is indicated by a blue dot, much like a cursor on a computer screen, that I have to keep as close as possible to the innermost concentric circle. I fail. The blue dot goes all over the place. Who would’ve imagined just moving your waist a certain way could be a challenge? I give up.
“You have a weak lower back,” is the verdict of the trainer overseeing proceedings. “The machine tells me exactly which part of your lower back is affected.”
Just one session yields accurate data on the problem areas in one’s body, for which a physiotherapist can prescribe corrective measures. After 10 days of modified training, an athlete should do a comparative assessment on the machine to observe his/her progress.
Bindra is calm, yet excited. “If I didn’t have faith in the science behind this, I wouldn’t be doing this to make this available to other athletes of our country,” he says. Bindra was so impressed with it when he used it for the first time earlier this year that he carried a portable version of it with him to Rio. “If you are taking care of the body and getting your body balance and equilibrium right, it forms the right patterns in your brain. Athletes often fail, or miss a shot, because wrong training and wrong workout have formed the wrong patterns in their head,” he explains. “In Rio, my sighter (a device used to test the accuracy of sights on small arms) broke on the morning of my event. It’s a situation that would leave anyone flustered; you’re going to shoot at the Olympics. But my brain had formed the right patterns thanks to the training I did beforehand. Which means, even though I had to shoot my event with a different sighter, which is not ideal, I did not feel like something wrong had happened, and I shot well.”
The last shot of Abhinav Bindra’s professional career was decided by a shoot-off. And he missed it. But Bindra seems to have got closure as far as his athletic career is concerned. “I felt bad, I’m a human being, I went there to win and I didn’t, but I accepted it,” he says. “And I have no regrets, I prepared my absolute best. It was my best preparation out of the five Olympics I’ve been to, and that makes me immensely proud and gives me this internal satisfaction. I could not have done anything more to prepare for that particular day.”
Bindra does not like to leave anything to chance. Hence the need to know, to experiment, to test waters—to find out what can help him, even if it’s in the smallest degree, to improve his score by a decimal here and there. “In the area of sports science, we are at minus 30 level in India,” he says. “If I had access to all of this a few years ago, I am sure I would have won more than one Olympic medal.” Such systems have been installed at Fifa centres around the world and at the Olympic Sports Centre in Beijing, for example.
This, though, is only one small step, and can be accessed only by elite athletes at the moment. “We don’t have a grass-roots programme, and that’s what’s hurting us the most,” he says. “It’s a long process that requires persistence. If you start today, you will get the results 10-12 years later. But unless you make that investment, you’re not going to do any better than what you’re doing today. In London, we won six medals, let’s admit a couple of them were lucky, let’s just be truthful about that. In Rio, a few came close to a medal, on another day it could be four-five medals. The point I am making is that in our current systems I don’t think we can get above that.”
“It’s a given that we need a systems overhaul,” he says. “You’re talking about the Olympics, look at what the West does. The extent and efficiency they work with is like that of a machine. The Olympics come every day, and that’s what you should be working at. Until that happens, our expectations are unrealistic. Our systems cannot get efficient only a month before the Olympics.”
Bindra never tires of talking about sports and the need to develop sporting systems in India. But one senses that as a professional athlete of 22 years, he is tired. “I have a new life now,” he says. “This is the real world. I have to earn a living, I have to put food on the plate.”
Suprita Das is a senior sports correspondent with NDTV