India heaps praise, cash on winner Bindra
Wednesday, 13 August 2008

NEW DELHI, Aug 12 ( - Ecstatic India lavished praise and nearly $400,000 in cash on shooter Abhinav Bindra after he won the first solo Olympic title for a medal-starved nation.

Bindra, 25, won the men's 10m air rifle gold in Beijing on Monday to the disbelief and joy of a billion-strong country that has won just one medal in each of the last three Olympics.

The Sports Ministry is giving Olympic winners $70,900 each, while the cash-rich national cricket board will hand over $59,000 to Bindra as part of its campaign to back other sports.

His home state Punjab has given him $236,000, with more money coming from two other state governments and a state-run company.

In total, his gold has netted him more than $370,000, roughly equivalent to a company CEO's annual salary—even though he comes from a wealthy family which has spent thousands of dollars on his training in the past 10 years.

Indian newspapers carried banner headlines hailing his win.

"Gold: One in a Billion," blared the headline in the Asian Age referring to India's population. The Times of India dubbed him "India's Goldfinger".

Hindustan Times put it simply: "At last", referring to India's long wait for individual glory with all previous eight gold medals having come in men's hockey.

The video of Bindra's medal ceremony on YouTube received more than 70,000 views in the first 24 hours, showing what the rare sporting success meant to Indians at home and abroad.

For Bindra himself, the achievement has yet to hit home.

"It has all still not sunk in," the reticent shooter wrote in his blog

"They have all been telling me what a huge achievement winning gold is," he wrote. "I realise that but frankly the enormity of the goodwill generated has caught me by surprise.

"Honestly enough it really has not changed me, I am still the same Abhinav who just a day ago was hanging around alone in my room in the Olympic village.

"Frankly, all the attention is a bit overwhelming," he added.

Newspapers wrote about the shooter's father, A.S. Bindra, a wealthy businessman who built an international standard range at home for his son's training. The Hindustan Times said his training included wall climbing to build mental strength.

As a teenager, he was 11th in Sydney in 2000 and then reached the final in Athens only to finish seventh.

Indian media have speculated that Bindra's commercial value could now match those of leading cricketers.

He may not be in particular need of the cash, however. Indian newspapers say his father plans to build a five-star hotel to be run by his business graduate son.

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