| Rathore displays his medal after arriving in Delhi on Saturday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Aug. 21: Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s only miscalculation was beating the man who pipped him to the gold in Athens, just a month before the Olympics.
The army major — who won silver in double trap shooting, India’s only medal so far at the Games — said “great friend” Ahmed Almaktoum, from the United Arab Emirates, took “sweet revenge”.
“My major mistake was that I beat him at the Masters at the Czech Republic just a month before the Athens Olympics. There he was not even in the first three. I should have allowed him to win there,” the 34-year-old said after he returned in the morning.
Rathore came back to a rousing reception.
The only person from his family who managed to give him a traditional hero’s welcome — with a tika —when he landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport was his naani (maternal grandmother).
“After that he was swept away by the crowds,” said Gayatri, the wife of the man who has given the country something to cheer about in the midst of an otherwise dismal effort clouded by failed dope tests and the defeat of tennis pair Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.
The soldier, who belongs to the 9 Grenadiers regiment and is posted at the Army Marksmanship Unit in Mhow, was received at the airport by Union sports minister Sunil Dutt and top army officials.
Rathore, called “Chilly” by friends, emerged from the airport wearing the blue Indian blazer, the silver medal round his neck. “Hip, hip,” he shouted as the crowd roared back “hurray”. “This medal is not only for me but for my countrymen,” he told the crowd from the roof a jeep.
Sister Ritu and other family members had decorated his Delhi Cantonment home. Shamianas had been erected outside the house for the avalanche of visitors.
An 11-year-old star-struck neighbour ran up to Rathore to ask for an autograph. “I won’t just give you my autograph,” he told her. “I am going to write my life story and give it to you.”
Gayatri said they had not had the time to talk since he returned. “We were standing at the back at the airport when Duttji was receiving him. It was then he saw me and asked me to join him. Since then, he is just meeting everyone.”
But now the soldier was sleeping. It was 2 in the afternoon. “He just had his lunch and has gone to sleep,” Gayatri said.
Rathore’s first lunch back home was a traditional fare of roti, dal, chawal and mattar paneer — a change from the pizza and pasta he has been having.
While son Manavaditya — “Milo” — has taken the euphoria of the last few days in his boyish stride, Rathore’s daughter Gauri, who has barely seen her father for two months in her life of two years, was clearly excited. “Gauri has seen her father more in albums. Today she pointed to him and was calling him ‘Papa, Papa’,” Gayatri said.
Rathore, who came home straight from the airport, had a wash before changing into his full army uniform to meet army chief General .C. Vij. He spoke to the reporters gathered at his residence for about 10 minutes recounting how he felt before the silver-clinching effort. “I thought that I have come so far, should I go back empty handed,” he recalled telling himself. “What for have I come so far.”
Rathore said 16 years in the army had played a part in his success, “specially the determination and discipline which has no substitute”.
Vij later assured Rathore the army would provide all facilities for the next four years to convert the silver into a gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He also presented Rathore a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh.
At 4 pm, Rathore left for an informal meeting with Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.