ISSUE Despite missing the Arjuna Award, Saji Thomas is determined to look ahead

Hussain Sagar has been his ‘second' home ever since he migrated from the picturesque Alleppey in Kerala to earn a name for himself in the world of rowing.

But at the fag end of his career, 34-year-old Saji Thomas is now left wondering whether all the hard work has been really worth it – he won two silver in the 2010 Asian Games, three gold in the Asian championship a few years ago to name just a few of his achievements.

This untiring rower who is a veteran in overcoming the troubled waters in the best of the competitions, is dejected at missing the Arjuna Award. “Honestly, I have no complaints against those who got them. In fact, when I heard my good friend Gagan (Narang) got the Rajiv Khel Ratna Award, I immediately sent a congratulatory message to him. But, as the list got over, I was disappointed not to see my name there,” says Saji Thomas.

In fact, chief national coach Ismail Baig says that they were just waiting to celebrate the announcement of Arjuna Award for Saji. “We were so confident that he would get it by virtue of his achievements. But, it was terrible that he missed it for no fault of his,” the coach said.

For his part, like a true champion Saji doesn't believe that being denied the Award is the end of it all. “Maybe, I will try to put in my best efforts to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics and prove a point,” he says.

Saji's resume is rich and reflects the plight of Indian rowers who rarely get the recognition they are entitled to. “It is not a glamorous sport . But, no one can take away our achievements, against all odds,” reminds Saji.

That Saji, along with 30 rowers, spend the best part of their life, even visiting their families only once in three months in far off corners of India, in the makeshift sheds as accommodation and the boats, is perhaps a story of how champions emerge from relatively obscure surroundings like the Hussain Sagar lake.

“It is sad that Saji missed out the Arjuna Award this time around. He badly deserved it,” insists CPS Deo, president of Rowing Federation of India who even dashed off a letter to the Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken expressing serious displeasure about this.

“For athletes like Saji awards mean a lot – to look back with a sense of pride and spur them on to aim bigger,” says the dedicated coach.