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The shot heard around the world

Abhinav BindraIn case you missed the news, in case you were sleeping under a rock or just got released from Guantanamo, India won its first-ever individual gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, causing 1.1 billion people to jump up and down with joy, touching off a minor earthquake in California and a major interruption in tech support.

Yes, an Indian man won an Olympic gold medal — and without all his opponents getting injured. Abhinav Bindra, a 25-year-old from Delhi, won first place in the 10m air rifle event, beating 50 other shooters, including that great Albanian marksman Imer Gudschot.

So excited were members of the Indian Olympic Association, so taken in this moment of high-fives and champagne-popping, that some of them checked the official medal table to see if India had moved past America. No such luck, of course, but that didn’t stop Indians from celebrating like it was the greatest Olympic achievement ever. And who can blame them? After all, it was their first individual gold medal since India began competing in the Olympics more than a century ago, back in the days when “catapulting” was an official sport.

“The drought is over!” screamed one newspaper’s headline, causing even more celebration across the land, particularly in the farming community.

It was a shining moment for India on the world’s greatest sporting stage. As one Indian politician eloquently put it, “Abhinav Bindra has shooted us all into glory!”

Almost everyone in India, from the Prime Minister to the church minister, heaped praise on Bindra. Even members of the Indian Astronomers Association, attending a convention in Pune, took a break from the proceedings to applaud the “shooting star.”

Congratulatory messages poured into India from all over the world. U.S. presidential candidate John McCain, hoping to endear himself to Indian-American voters, sent a congratulatory card that he said was “from one straight shooter to another.”

Indian legislators debated a motion to celebrate Aug. 11 every year as Gold Medal Day. They voted down a proposal to display Bindra’s medal at a national museum in Delhi, amid fears that the building would not be able to handle the millions who would come to view it.

The excitement and celebration may have seemed overblown, but not to Indians. “People around the world may not know this,” a Chennai man said, “but we Indians really love gold!”

Bindra’s victory, combined with shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, is expected to increase the popularity of shooting in India, drawing thousands of youngsters to shooting competitions and exhibitions during breaks from cricket.

“We want shooting to be more popular in India,” said sports administrator Baljit Singh, “but not as popular as it is in America.”

Hoping to match the success of TGC (The Golf Channel) in America, media mogul Rupert Murdoch announced that Indian viewers would soon be treated to TSC (The Shooting Channel). It’s expected to feature various shooting competitions from around the world, as well as reruns of the American shows “Gunsmoke” and “Have Gun Will Travel.”

Rajesh Patel, who has been hired as a TSC analyst, said Bindra’s victory will have a lasting impact in India, even on sports announcing. “We’re not going to say that someone’s performance is ‘simply wonderful’ anymore,” he said. “We’re going to say that it’s ‘simply Bindraful.'”

Schoolchildren for years to come will learn about Bindra, thanks partly to an Indian publisher who has already put out a special alphabet book: “A is for Abhinav. Abhinav is first name of champion. B is for Bindra. Bindra is surname of champion. C is for Chapati. Chapati is food of champion.”

Bindra has not just earned a lifetime of adulation, he has become India’s most eligible bachelor, receiving a flood of marriage proposals. Said his proud mother: “We have received proposals from North Indians, South Indians, even West Indians.”

Indeed, a Trinidad dairy farmer with a 20-year-old daughter offered 1,000 cows in dowry, but Bindra turned down the offer, saying he doesn’t want to milk his fame.

That pleased Indian sports fans, who want Bindra to choose his bride carefully, believing that the country’s future Olympic glory rests partly on what type of genes his children inherit. Some are even dreaming of a match between Bindra and badminton star Saina Nehwal, an Olympic quarterfinalist. But that would be folly, according to one Indian scientist, who said, “If we match a badmintoner with a shooter, we might end up with a badshooter.”

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