Men's eights takes silver; unexpected bronze for women's pair
Bajrang Lal Takhar led from start to finish in the men's single sculls event, to clinch India's second gold medal, and the first ever gold in rowing, in the Asian Games here on Friday.
It was a moment that Indian rowing had been awaiting for four years, ever since the team had won two silver medals and a bronze, in the last Asian Games in Doha.
Bajrang Lal was the undisputed hero of the day, as he warded off a late surge from Ming Hui Wang of Chinese Taipei with a touch of assurance to win by a length. “It was my aim to win the Asian Games gold. I am very happy that I have fulfilled it,” said Bajrang of the Rajputana Rifles in the Indian army.
With the men's eights team getting silver and the women's pair coming up with an unexpected bronze, the joy in the Indian rowing camp knew no bounds.
Being a two-time Asian champion and by the sheer weight of his best timing in qualification, Bajrang Lal was tipped as favourite, particularly in the absence of the Chinese, who were restricted to competing in 10 of the 14 events as per rules. It was another matter that China won all the 10 golds it took part in.
Initially it was the Uzbek, Vladimir Chernenko who was chasing the Indian. Bajrang Lal maintained a comfortable lead of a few seconds at the 500, 1000 and 1500 metres stage over the Uzbek and Iraqi, Haeider Hamarasheid.
However, in the last 500 metres, Ming Hui Wang came up with a strong surge, but the the Indian was ready for the challenge.
Bajrang Lal won with a time of 7 minutes 4.78 seconds as against 7:07.33 for the second place. Haeider Hamarsheid of Iraq managed to cling on to the bronze, for his country's first rowing medal, at 7:10.10.
“I had the confidence as I had maintained a good lead till the 1500 metres.
“I was keen about getting a strong start and having a good lead at the 500-metre mark. I was sure of a good finish,” Bajrang Lal said. He punched the air with both fists at the finish and fell back in the boat in a moment of celebration that he will cherish forever.
“It was a really fierce competition. Coming up from fifth to second, I think it was because of solid experience
“I have gained, including through my participation in two Olympic Games,” he said.
Ming Hui Wang, the 27-year-old from Taipei said, “at 1500 metres, I was exhausted. I reminded myself of my training in the last eight months. I asked myself what I wanted to achieve with those hard training sessions. I rushed forward and forward.”
The 27-year-old from Taipei did pass every other boat on the way, but could not deny the Indian.
Saying he had worked very hard in the last four years to graduate from silver to gold, Bajrang Lal hoped the medal would help elevate the status of rowing back home, and help the sport get a lot more support.
National coach Ismail Baig, who had introduced Bajrang Lal to the sport in 2001 and had been nurturing him throughout, said he had been confident of the strong finish, and said the challenge from Taipei was on expected lines.
Bajrang Lal had beaten the same lad in the Asian championship last year.
“This was the medal that we have been waiting for all these years,” said Ismail Baig, even as he recalled how Indian juniors had won two gold medals at the same venue earlier this year.
It was the sixth gold in the international arena for Bajrang Lal who had won the SAF Games gold apart from the two Asian championships.
The Indian men's eights (Lokesh Kumar, Satish Joshi, Saji Thomas, Jenil Krishnan, Anil Kumar, Ranjit Singh, Rajesh Kumar Yadav, Manjeet Singh and Girraj Singh) clinched the silver at 5:49.50 behind China (5:37.44).
The duo of Pramila Prava Minz and Pratima Puhana of Orissa, won the bronze at 7:47.50 behind China (7:22.06) and Kazakhstan (7:35.13) in the women's pair event, the first medal for Indian women in rowing, which wound up with an impressive collection of one gold, three silvers and a bronze in the current edition.
Indian Rowing Federation President Col. C.P. Singh Deo presented the medals to Bajrang Lal.