The Indian rowing contingent redeemed itself by winning three medals, including a historic gold in quadruple sculls, on the final day of the competition at the 18th Asian Games in Palembang.
The rowers had to overcome an unexpected and disastrous outing yesterday, when they were in contention for four medals, to ensure that India doesn’t return home empty handed from the Jakabaring lake.
All Armymen, most of them from humble background, fought with the never-say-die spirit that soldiers are best known for. They pushed their boats as if there was no tomorrow.
“Yesterday we had a bad day but soldiers never give up. I told my teammates that we will go for the gold and we will give it all. It was about karo ya maro (do or die). And we did it,” Sawarn Singh, senior most member of the gold-winning quadruple sculls team, told PTI.
He not only pushed himself to the limit but his words of encouragement fired up his teammates, including Dattu Baban Bhokanal, who had given up midway into his single sculls race yesterday after starting as the favourite.
The other members of the triumphant team were Sukhmeet Singh, who like Sawarn is from Mansa district in Punab, and Om Prakash.
Like Bhokanal, Sawarn and Prakash also suffered a heartbreak yesterday, missing out on the bronze in the men’s double sculls. But all of them were able to turn it around in less than 24 hours.
Dushyant Chauhan, bronze medallist in lightweight single sculls at Incheon, defended his third place in the event.
Courtesy Bhagwan Singh and Rohit Kumar, India won another bronze in men’s lightweight double sculls.
Bhagwan is a son of a truck driver who had to quit journalism in the second year and join Indian Army due to financial issues.
Dushyant, who is now an experienced rower, gave his all quite literally. The energy sapping dash in the final 500 metres led to him being carried on a stretcher to the medical centre. He was so drained out that he could not stand properly during the medal ceremony. Minutes later he threw up, prompting the doctors to rush him to the medical centre.
“I pushed as if it was the last race of my life. That was the only thing in the mind. May be I pushed a bit too hard but it was worth it. I had a bad cold and throat in the run up to the event, that also affected me a lot during the race. I was gone,” said Dushyant, who had not eaten much in the morning ahead of the race as they all have to maintain weight (72kg).
“I just had two breads and an apple. It was very hot also. That is why I was completely dehydrated,” added the 25-year-old who lives in Gurgaon.
In the quadruple sculls, it was a lot more than just a race for the experienced Bhokanal and Sawarn.
Bhokanal had to win it for his late mother while Sawarn had to do it to know if he still had gas left in the tank.
The 28-year-old had almost quit the sport, having suffered a slip disc following his bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games. He only made a comeback last year due to the constant encouragement from chief coach Ismail Baig.
“I never thought that I could come back and win a medal for the country again. The federation took care of me, sent me to Chennai for my back treatment. I am thankful to them,” said Sawarn.
The quadruple sculls squad changed its tactics after the dismal show yesterday.
“We were in the front in the first 1000m yesterday but were chased down at the end. Today we made ensure we were steady in the first half and then accelerated in the final 500 metres,” Sawarn added.
The move did pay off as Sawarn and Co won the race by close to three seconds. Indonesia and Thailand won the silver and bronze respectively.
The gold was also India’s second at the Asian Games rowing, the first being Bajrang Lal Thakkar’s in 2010.