Current generation of athletes is not chicken hearted: Abhinav Bindra

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New Delhi, Jul 8 (PTI) India's first-ever Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra feels the current generation of athletes is much more confident than the "chicken-hearted" players of his time but advised the Paris-bound Indian contingent to not make the mistake of thinking about either past or future.

Bindra, who won a shooting gold in 2008 Beijing Games, was speaking during a panel discussion organised by the Embassy of France with the Indo-French Chamber of Commerce & Industry (IFCCI) on the country's preparations for the Olympic Games, starting July 26.

India is set to field its largest ever contingent with more than 125 athletes qualifying for the biggest sporting event on earth.

"I came from a generation that was chicken hearted, in nature. These athletes are much more confident, have self belief. They want to go and win and not just win but win gold medals and it comes out very clearly. That is a reflection of our society, how it has developed over the years," said Bindra.

The 41-year-old said the way sport is looked at and spoken about have changed but what has not changed is the stiff competition that athletes face.

"The conversations are different now. But there are similarities, they have to show up in Paris and perform on that particular day. It's not going to get easier in any way. They have to learn to soak in the pressure and focus on process perfected over years, process of execution of their skills.

"The biggest mistake athletes make is that they are either living in the past or thinking about what the future holds. They forget about the only reality that exists, remaining present in moment." Thierry Mathou, the Ambassador of France to India, said Paris was ready to deliver exceptional Games. He said that innovation, sustainability, solidarity, gender equality, employment, education and inclusivity was at the heart of their organisation of the Games.

Mathou also informed that India and France have signed an MoU for co-operation in sports and it becomes crucial when India aspires to host Olympic Games in 2036.

There is intense speculation and debates around the number of medals India will win in the 2024 edition, considering the efforts that have gone into preparing the athletes. The officials are optimistic that India will be able to better the Tokyo performance where the country won seven medals.

When asked about the same, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) President Adille Sumariwalla presented his perspective.

"Neeraj is Asian champion, CWG champion, World and Olympic champion. Every time he has thrown, somewhere in the world someone has thrown better that him. But on that day, Neeraj did his best. It was not 90m, it was 89 and it was gold.

"Will he do well, yes, will others do well, I hope they do. Yesterday Avinash Sable created a national record again, will that help him win, we don't know. At last Worlds he could have won gold with same time but yesterday he was sixth. It's difficult to predict," he said.

Sumariwala said for him progress means not just the number of medals won.

"We have to see how many athletes were in London, Rio, Tokyo and how many now. How many made the finals then and how many now. If the number is up, is that a progressions, yes. That's how I measure." Bindra said for India to start dreaming of winning 30-40 Olympic medals a lot of work is required at the grassroots level.

"We have to start looking at sport differently. At present we are looking at it how athletes are doing at world level. It makes us stand tall. We need to see sport's larger role in nation building.

"The 50 per cent of the population is under 25. How we integrate sports at grassroots level, make it more inclusive for kids that they just play and enjoy sport. When that number increases, the number of athletes making the elite level will also increase. If that happens, in 8-10 years we will see a jump." Bindra also said that the upcoming edition of the Games has come in a difficult time.

"We are living in a different world, the difference is that war was happening in different parts of the world and it is after a very long time, that the world is coming together. They are all living under the same roof, chasing excellence.

"It will be a visual spectacle with sporting venues in the background of iconic (buildings), it will be a feast for eyes." PTI AT AT ATK ATK