Learning from the Olympian brain

June 16, 2016



Abhinav Bindra from India after firing the winning shot in the 10m air-rifle shooting final at the 2008 Olympics.


We had the rare privilege of looking inside Abhinav’s brain during his preparation for the 2008 Olympics.  The physiology inside his brain was nothing short of astounding. 


His visual cortical activity was dead constant when shooting his 'good shots'


During those shots that Abhinav rated as a 'good shot', his thinking brain seemed to simply not register the target at all.


Nor where there any self-talk brain activity in his thinking brain.


Talking to/motivating yourself is a thinking brain activity and a definite no-no if you want to remain completely focussed and relaxed.


Overall Abhinav had very little thinking brain activity when firing his 'good shots'.


During those shots when he felt 'unstable' or felt a 'muscle tremor', his thinking brain activity dramatically increased .


What this tells us is that even a very ‘mental’ sport demanding hardly any movement, bar a trigger pull, is best done subcortically via the reptilian brain or R-brain.


There are some key take home messages here of what a high functioning brain looks like.


In a nutshell – shooting performance under extreme pressure - hinges on allowing the R-brain to take over as much control as possible of eye-hand-body co-ordination. 


The same would apply for remaining hale and healthy deep into old age.


Abhinav tapped into his deeply subconscious R-brain to allow him to stay calm and focused in one of the most competitive sporting arenas known to man - an Olympic final.


In the qualification round of 60 shots at the 2008 Olympics (below), Abhinav left 4 points on the table, scoring 596 out of a possible 600.  This left him in joint 3d position overall.


In training these men would all routinely shoot 60 bulls eyes, equating to a score of 600.  However, if you line them up with 7 of the other best shots in the world to compete for an Olympic gold medal, it is an entirely different kettle of fish!

The target: total diameter = 45.5 mm; 4 ring diameter = 30.5 mm. 9 ring diameter = 5.5 mm. 10 ring diameter = 0.5 mm; height 1.4 m above the floor.

The 8 men who made the final were each given another 10 shots to add to their qualification scores.


This is where the pressure reaches boiling point.


Each of these 10 shots counts a maximum of 10.9 points. The cumulative score then determining the winner (qualification + finals score).


The maximum of 10.9 is derived from an additional set of 10 rings within the central circle.


Any shot touching the inside of the central ring, that has a diameter of 0.55 cm, scores 10.  See Henri Hakkinen's score on right.


The points then increases by 0.1 as the rings approach the center point of the target.  See Abhinav's score above.


By the time 8 shots had been fired in the final (see below), Abhinav had overtaken Henri Hakkinen from Finland by the smallest of margins, 0.1 points.


Shooting anything less than a bullseye for the next 2 shots ( i.e. not scoring at least 10 points) could very well consign Abhinav to an also ran, ending outside of the medals.

Any hint of self doubt, instability or muscle tremor could prove fatal to Abhinav's medal hopes. He held his nerve and ended with the best final 10 shots, scoring 104.5 out of a maximum possible of 109 points. 


Henri Hakkinen, on the other hand, dropped from gold to bronse.  He had the best qualification round, but the worst final 10 shots of all 8 finalists with 101.4 points.



Allowing the R-brain to co-ordinate our structure, blood pressure & heart rate, rhythmic movement (locomotion), breathing, and most importantly, timing will similarly help us to hit the bulls eye each time. 


The R-brain is exquisitely designed to keep our bodies firing on all cylinders at all times.


Vetoing our R-brains, on the other hand, with over thinking or wrong emotions will upset the finely balanced operations managed so perfectly by the R-brain and upset our timing.


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