Till about a month back, Arvind Singh was unsure if he would be able to participate in the Asian Games – and Arjun Lal Jat wasn’t going to pair with anyone else. A lower back pain, common among rowers, had put a question mark on the duo’s Asiad appearance.
On Sunday, the most experienced of Indian rowers here answered everyone finishing second in the lightweight double sculls – the first-ever silver in the event after three bronze medals including at the 2018 edition by Rohit Kumar and Bhagwan Singh – to begin a fruitful day for India in the water as three of the four medal contenders ended on the podium on the opening day of the 19th Asian Games.
Arvind/Arjun finished in 6:28:18, five seconds behind winner China. This has already equalled India’s medals from the sport in the last two editions with four more medals on offer on Monday.
Babu Lal Yadav and Lekh Ram added a bronze in the men’s Pairs while the octet -- Neeraj, Naresh Kalwaniya, Neetish Kumar, Charanjeet Singh, Jaswinder Singh, Bheem Singh, Punit Kumar, Ashish and Dhananjay Pande – finished strongly to overtake Indonesia in the final 500m and add another silver on the day.
But the spotlight was clearly on Arvind and Arjun, the only ones with Olympic experience, having reached the semifinals at Tokyo – the only Asian pair to do so. Having been among the reserves in 2018, the duo was determined to not just qualify and participate here but also change the colour of the medal from five years back.
“It was a lot of hard work from everyone including the coaches, officials, physios, masseurs to get back into action in one month. While training in India, we did not even think we could win a medal here because we were not able to practice the way we wanted to. But once we reached here almost 15 days back and got a feel of the competition and the place, it helped a lot,” Arvind admitted.
The one man who believed in them was Arjun. Having joined the Indian army at the same time – Arjun in Rajputana Rifles and Arvind in Bengal Engineering Corp – the two, both Naib Subedars, have been rowing together for almost five years. “When we joined, coming from places like Jaipuir and Bulandshahar, neither of us even knew what rowing was. Olympian Bajrang Lal Takhar (here with the team) selected me, took me to the Army Rowing Node in Pune and has guided me all through. He has had a big role in our success. Now there is complete trust, it’s almost telepathic. I know that till we are together, we can win anything,” Arjun declared.
The duo’s primary target was Uzbekistan, who had beaten them in the World Cup recently. “While training and today also, they were our target and we kept them away to assure a medal for us in the 1st 1000m. After that we decided to take on China for gold, although they had a big lead by then, and we fought hard but honestly, we had given our 100 percent by the 1500m mark. But next time, they will be our target,” Arvind said.
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