The Indian men's rowing squad redeemed itself on Friday by winning a rare gold and two bronze medals at Palembang, but not before some disturbing news had mudded already troubled waters. Thursday, the first of the two finals days, turned out to be a dry day on the water as Indian men competed in four finals, but could not secure a medal in any of them. The quadruple sculls team finally restored some lost pride on Friday, when they won India's second gold medal in the sport in Asian Games till date. The last one came in 2010, when Bajrang Lal Takhar won the single sculls event.
However, by the end of the day, there was more talk about the ouster of the foreign coach than about the medals. Nicolae Gioga, the Romanian with multiple Olympic medals on his coattails, was removed as technical director of the rowing program as confirmed by Secretary-General of the Rowing Federation of India, Girish Phadnis. There had been discontent about his training methods and the poor show on Thursday seemed to be the tipping point. Ironically, India finally won gold the next day.
Trouble was brewing even before the boats were dry. India's terrible Thursday began with their most well known name, Dattu Bhokanal, finishing last in the final of the single sculls. Bhokanal was in second place halfway through the race, but seemed to give up after about 1200m coasting the remaining 800. Bhokanal finished more than a minute after the first boat had crossed the finish line, with a time of 8:28.56. He later explained that he was suffering from fever and weakness after catching a cold and he had been treated at the medical centre in Palembang. It left him with no energy to finish the race with any speed.
That's where the dissonance began. "I didn’t see that he had problem," said Gioga. "No one told me that Dattu has a problem. Usually, I am the one who points out when someone has a problem," he commented. Somehow, the technical director of the rowing programme was not aware that his star rower was at less than full fitness. Therefore, he felt that Bhokanal had given up. "They are looking for different reasons to take rest," he said. Even Ismail Baig, the national team coach, was surprised by Bhokanal’s race. "In 20 years, I have not seen something like that," Baig said.
Incidentally, Bhokanal capsized his boat while getting into the water as he forgot to lock one of the oars in place. While this makes no difference to the race, it was another thing that Baig felt was uncommon and could upset preparation. "Mentally, you may not feel good. In your heart it feels uncertain," he said.
Illness had been a major concern for Giago leading up to the Games. "For Dattu and Swaran (Singh), their weakest point is their health. They fall sick so often," he said ahead of the Asian Games, while the team was training in Pune. "If the health helps us, I could say 100% they are gold medals," Giago had said.
Swaran Singh had returned from a career threatening back injury, only to be struck down by typhoid in the lead up to the Games. India's first medalist in Palembang, Dushyant Chauhan, too was unwell during his competition when he won the bronze. He was suffering from a cough, and was also dehydrated as he was striving to make weight. He had to be given oxygen through a mask and administered glucose before the medal ceremony. Still in a weak state, he threw up after the ceremony and had to be stretchered off.
It is understood that Giago preferred slightly off-beat training methods, not setting much store by weight training or using the ergo-meter. Instead, he had his athletes spending as much time as possible on the water training in the conditions that they would be competing in. "We have been doing strength training for a while, but now the new coach has come and he has new training methods. Let’s see, we will analyse at the end. Personally, I feel strength is important for every sportsman," said Baig.
Two of the four races India lost on Thursday were ceded in the last 200m. Giago also preferred to have time trials very often and Chauhan admitted that this helped get rid of the fear of competition. "Now, even if we get up in the middle of the night, we are ready to race," he said before the Games.
India were also racing in rented boats of the same brand the athletes used at home, having chosen not to transport their boats from India. This made no difference to the medal winners: Rohit Kumar and Bhagwan Singh with a bronze in the lightweight double sculls, Chauhan in the lightweight single sculls and the team of Bhokanal, Swaran, Omprakash Singh and Sukhmeet Singh in the quadruple sculls, who took home the elusive and solitary gold. The yellow medal was redemption of sorts for Swaran and Bhokanal, though it was far from the seven golds Giago was targeting. As India's senior most rowers, Thursday would have been hardest on the two Army men. But they ensured Friday was not black, but yellow.
Updated Date: Aug 25, 2018 11:32 AM