Review of “A Shot at History” by Abhinav Bindra

Special guest post by Caroline, Airrifleshooting’s wife

My husband got this book for Christmas, and read it pretty fast. He then insisted I read it too.  It took me a while to get to it, I had a bunch of other books in the queue and must admit I was not super enthusiastic (I like murder mysteries, *spoiler alert* there are no murders in this book).  Shooting is not a glamorous sport full of drama; I didn’t think there would be much to talk about. But I read it anyway (that’s love).

My first thought was that the book is not written in the most compelling fashion.  There are some small grammatical mistakes (disclaimer, I’m an editor and this stuff annoys me, more than a normal person) and some expressions in Hindi that are not translated (I guess the book’s intended primary market is India).  But that is really small stuff, and I kept on reading: just because you don’t like how someone expresses themselves, that does not mean you won’t be interested in what they say.

Picture from Amazon.com

In the book, I learned a lot about the psychological aspects of target shooting. I am familiar with the sport, how it works, the rules etc.  But shooting being an individual sport, tactic if you will, is something that entirely plays out silently, in the shooter’s head.  When you watch shooting, you only see numbers clicking on a monitor as the time counts down.  And it’s stressful if you are vouching for someone.  I remember that when watching my husband shooting four, then five consecutive 10s, I’d get more and more nervous. With this book, I got a better idea of what goes through his head.

Shooting is, after mastering some technique and skills of course, a very personal journey.  It’s about mentally pushing yourself, controlling yourself, adapting to strange surroundings and building a strong inner bubble. Reading Bindra, an Olympic gold medallist, I also had a suspicion of mine about Olympic athletes confirmed: to make it in athletics at that level, one needs to be obsessed.  One must focus completely on this goal, almost to the detriment of oneself (we’ve all heard of athletes “pushing through the pain”), practicing and practicing and doing nothing else.

I was also really interested by the part of the book where Bindra goes to the US Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs.  I liked their very American approach to sport, both scientific and holistic.  Kind of made me want to go there, it felt like such a positive place where you only focus on improving.   With shooting, Bindra got to travel a lot, through competitions but also his training abroad. He trained mostly in Germany with German coaches (Germany has many people involved in the sport).  This is because in India, the facilities and professional support for the sport was not really there at the time.  He spends some time in the book discussing the situation of the sport in India (it’s not ideal).

In the book, we also glimpse instances where maybe Bindra has been cheated out of medal or at least out of final placement, because of probable tampering with equipment.  When competing on that level, every thing counts and can throw you off your game.  The stakes are high for all participants and we are all aware of professional sport scandals.  Air rifle shooting does not really lend itself to high level cheating, but it still happens.  I kind of wish those bits had been written a bit more dramatically, but I guess it was written in the way the author took these situations, without making a fuss and by accepting the unacceptable.

I would recommend this book to air rifle shooters of all levels, because it gives a good idea of the internal struggles that come with mastering the sport.  They should then pass the book to their parents, their friends and spouses, so they can better understand their shooters.

Comment

I agree with many things mentioned in the above review even though I see them slightly differently, being the shooter as I am.

I really liked the book. Thought it gave an unusual glimpse behind the scene of an international shooter with many great performances in the bag. The obsession that lies behind all those hours and hours perfecting his craft. Normally we only see what the elite produce, not what goes on in their heads. It adds a level of appreciation to the sport not generally there. I especially agree with the end of the above review; hand it over to your close ones after finishing the book yourself. It’s one thing to explain what shooting really is about and something completely different when you get to see it for yourself (so to say). A must read!

Two links that might be of interest:

Review by the blog Shades of Grey

And a discussion at the book launch.

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