China may not be a favourite location for Indian sports in general, but for its rowers, it has been a happy hunting ground. With five medals at the 19th Asian Games here to equal their previous best-ever performance, the Indian rowers are now hoping for a bigger success.
India finished with five medals – two silvers and three bronze in rowing – to equal its 2010 tally at Guangzhou, adding two bronze medals on Monday in the men’s Fours and Quadruple Sculls.
While Balraj Panwar came agonisingly close before falling short to finish fourth in the Single Sculls, it was heartening for someone who was not even considered for the Games, before being added as a late entry.
“My coaches and the federation pushed a lot to get my event included in the entry list. The IOA had initially not considered single sculls but coaches Bajrang (Lal Takhar) and Ismail (Baig) sir insisted I was doing well in my time trials during training.
“I am thankful for the faith they kept in me and while there was pressure to justify that faith, I am happy I gave everything I had out there to get a personal best timing,” Panwar told Sportstar.
In the Fours, it was heartbreak as the Indian quartet of Ashish, Punit Kumar, Bhim Singh and Jaswinder Singh were nudged out of the second spot by China with a margin of 0.78 seconds.
The Indians, consistently in third spot, put in a late burst of energy to inch ahead but were unlucky to get stuck metres from the finish.
“It was a close race. We had tried to beat the Chinese from the start and it was all going according to plan but a mistake in the last 20 metres really cost us a silver medal,” a visibly distraught Punit admitted.
“There was a crosswind which forced us to go off course and one of our oars got stuck in the buoy. That resulted in losing those crucial microseconds and our silver medal turning to bronze.”
Cheered on by a vocal crowd, the Chinese nipped ahead while Uzbekistan won a comfortable gold. That it was one of only two silvers won by the Chinese – along with 11 golds – shows the dominance of the host in water, and challenging them was a morale-booster.
“This will probably hurt me for a long time. But I have learned a big lesson from this. Hopefully, the coming generations will take strength from this and realise that we have the potential to defeat China in future competitions,” Punit said.
The Quadruple Sculls added another bronze as the rowers recovered from a disappointing sixth finish the day before in the Double Sculls, with both Satnam Singh and Parminder Singh admitting that it had been a testing night before.
“I have taken part in World Cups before, I even have a medal at the 2022 Asian Championships. But the environment here, the pride I felt was tremendous. Every minute felt like an hour last night. But we gave everything we had today to the point that we don’t have anything left in us now,” Parminder said.
“We were in the clear for a silver yesterday but when I turned to my side, I felt a twist in my neck and my body just shut down. Only we know how worried we were through the night,” an exhausted Satnam added.
“But the crew today had faith in me. We spoke about trying a different combination but they all wanted me to race today and I am glad I could keep their faith.”.
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