All for One, One for All Mantra Delivers Golden Moment for Indian Rowers
The story of how India's rowers clinched an Asian Games gold with the odds stacked against them.
Image: Ismail Baig
Dattu Baban Bhokanal could not have had a more contrasting two consecutive days in his life. On Thursday, the Army rower couldn’t finish his race. 1000-1200m into his Singles Sculls final, he just abruptly stopped pulling his stroke. The weather was sapping, and a sore throat had worsened into a slight fever. But nothing could justify the Nashik man’s rudimentary mistake of forgetting to lock his oar gate, which led to a capsize. Bhokanal froze. But in the Indian camp tempers flared.
Nicolae Gioga, India’s Romanian rowing coach didn’t mince his words. “Training mentality was a problem, competition mentality was a problem,” he told reporters in Indonesia. Ismail Baig, an old hand in Indian rowing was shell shocked too. Never in his entire life as a coach had he heard of a rower forgetting to lock his oar gate before a race.
It was decided, India would in all probability not have Bhokanal on the following day in the Men’s Quadruple Sculls final the following day. But Baig insisted they stick with him. The gamble paid off, as Bhokanal along with Sawarn Singh, Om Prakash and Sukhmeet Singh rowed India to a gold, clocking 6:17:13. The rowers huddled around coach Baig and put their medals around his neck, lifted him on their shoulders, and continued to celebrate. For the Dronacharya Awardee, who had coached India to 5 medals at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, and 3 in 2014 in Incheon, going back empty handed in 2018 would’ve been a bitter pill to swallow.
It would’ve been way tougher for Bhokanal though. During his creditable 13th place finish at the Rio Olympics in 2016, he wasn’t fully focused at his job. His mind was more in Talegaon where his mother laid on a hospital bed in coma, and less in Rio. Bhokanal ended the Olympics as the fastest among the Asian rowers, but on his return to India, failed to find the will and strength to touch his rowing boat for months. “Woh bura waqt tha,” (It was a bad time) he’d said before leaving for the Asian Games. Bhokanal wanted to win a gold for his mother. As of Thursday, that looked impossible. But he wouldn’t have been able to forgive himself perhaps, had he not delivered the following day.
If Bhokanal had a mental battle to fight, for Dushyant Singh, who started India’s medal rush on Day 6 with a bronze in the Men’s Lightweight Single Sculls, the struggle was purely physical. The 25-year-old was so drained after finished third with a timing of 7.18.76, that he collapsed at the finish line. At the podium, Singh couldn’t even stand straight. His blood pressure had shot up, he threw up, and had to be wheeled out immediately. This isn’t the first time that physical ailment has come in the way of glory for the Jhajjhar man. In 2016, he was picked for the Rio Olympics, but he had to sit out after being diagnosed with chicken pox in the lead up to the event.
This time though he didn’t let ill health get in the way. Singh’s medal colour maybe bronze, but his braveheart performance is actually gold-worthy.
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