Asian Games 2018: Shrugging off Army-Federation spat, Indian rowers look to improve on their past performance

Eight medals are up for grabs at the Jakabaring Lake in Pelambang in the men’s categories and going by the current form, Indian rowers are in contention for a medal in all the categories.

Turja Sen August 16, 2018 17:15:19 IST
Asian Games 2018: Shrugging off Army-Federation spat, Indian rowers look to improve on their past performance

A running feud between the Army and the Rowing Federation of India (RFI) for over two years rocked the boats of the Indian rowers. But with the warring sides deciding to bury their differences just before the Asian Games, the sport is steadily coming out of the choppy waters.

Eight medals are up for grabs at the Jakabaring Lake in Pelambang in the men’s categories and going by the current form, Indian rowers are in contention for a medal in all the categories.

Asian Games 2018 Shrugging off ArmyFederation spat Indian rowers look to improve on their past performance

Dattu Bhokanal hasn't been able to compete in an international event since the Rio Olympics. Reuters

“We have won enough bronze medals in the last few editions of the Asian Games. It is high time that we get medals of brighter colours. And the current team is capable of doing it. Traditionally, we have done well in the sweeping events (coxed eight, coxless pair, coxless four) but the tide has turned and we now have great scullers in the line-up,’’ says Ismail Baig, chief coach of Indian team. India had three bronze medal in the last Asian Games in Incheon. China and Japan are expected to dominate the field with Kazakhstan and South Korea also likely to pose stiff challenge.

Dattu Bhokanal has been the face of Indian rowing, since his impressive display at the Rio Olympics. He finished a creditable 13th, the best showing by an Indian rower in an Olympics. But the spat between his employer-Army and the RFI ensured he could not build on this performance as he was barred from taking part in any international events. So the Asian Games will be his first international event since his quarter-final race in the Olympics.

Most of the elite rowers in the country, including Bhokanal, are employed with the Army. RFI, which governs the sport in the country, had several run-ins with the Army regarding the training of the rowers. Army has insisted on getting their own coaches for their employees and wanted more freedom in deciding on the training of the rowers. The federation felt that its role was being usurped and the Army was trying to gain control over running the sport, and this led to the stand-off.

Rowers from the Army skipped the Nationals for two years and none of the Army rowers were allowed to represent the country in any international event. Thankfully, the differences seemed to have ended with the Army rowers making a comeback in the Nationals in November last year and the preparations for the Asian Games kickstarted in the right earnest.

Bhokanal will be gunning for glory in the single sculls, an event in which he bagged a silver in the Asian Championships in 2015. Though the final selection will be done closer to the actual event, he is also in the frame to take part in the quadruple sculls and doubles sculls. Much is also expected from another sculler — Swaran Singh — who has made a dramatic recovery from fitness issues and is clocking very good timings in training. Swaran had bagged a bronze in the last Asian Games in Incheon and narrowly lost to Bhokanal in the Nationals.

Dushyant Chauhan, a bronze medallist in the Incheon Games, has been laid low by a serious knee injury but has regained his form and fitness. He is expected to lead India’s challenge in the lightweight sculls events where the rowers need to weigh less than 72.5 kg.

Indian rowing has received a big boost with the arrival of Nicolae Gioga from Romania, one of the most reputed coaches in the world. Known for his unconventional training methods, the Indians have taken time to adapt to his coaching style. The biggest stumbling block has been the fitness of the Indians, who have been struggling to cope with his demanding fitness regime. “We have benefitted immensely from his technical inputs. His eye for perfection is great and he has been helping us with all the minute details including how to select a boat and oars,’’ says Rohith Maradapa

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