INDIA makes a splash

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

The men's lightweight coxed eights team.-MD. YOUSUF

CHINESE rowers predictably dominated the 11th Asian Rowing Championship at Hussain Sagar Lake, Hyderabad, winning 12 golds and topping the medals tally. But the Indians came up with a surprise performance by winning four gold, three silver and five bronze medals, which is their highest tally in any international event. A far cry indeed from the solitary gold they won in the 1989 Asian Championship in Chandigarh.

The reason behind the success could be the familiarity of Indian rowers with the six-lane course — the one of its kind in the country — used for the event. The success could also be attributed to the long-term coaching stint that most of the rowers had in Hyderabad. The hosts capitalised on the wonderful opportunity presented to them in their `home stretch'.

There were murmurs about the extent of pollution in the water and one foreign coach even said competition would not have been allowed in such conditions anywhere in the world.

But, the fact that the Indians ended the championship in style winning the lightweight open eights category race is a tribute to the sincere efforts of Brig. K. P. S. Deo, President of Rowing Federation of India (RFI), and Col. C. P. S. Deo, Secretary of RFI, who had to do all the spadework to successfully conduct the meet. India's foreign coach and twice World champion Colin Barrat was sceptical about the prospects of Indian rowers before the event began considering the tragic death of one of the members on the coaches panel, S. P. S. Singh Yadav, in a freak boat mishap a couple of days before the meet. The incident had its impact on the rowers but in a positive manner — it appeared they were determined to pay a fitting tribute to the late coach by coming up with special performances.

The women's lightweight coxless fours team gave India two of its four gold medals in the event.-MD. YOUSUF

The first day of the medal round saw the Indians surprise everyone, including themselves, by winning two gold medals. First, the team comprising Pradeep Balyan, Saji Thomas, Sateesh Joshi and Dharmesh Sangwan clocked 6.13.68 in the men's coxless fours. The Indian rowers said they enjoyed the ideal rowing conditions that were prevalent and that training in the city for the last two years had helped them to assess the exact timing of when to pick up the momentum. "It is a memorable day for us as this happens to be the first gold for all of us," said the rowers.

For the Army rowers, it was their career-best timing and it would go a long way in their preparations for the Doha Asian Games next year. The hosts also bagged two silver and two bronze medals to make it a truly memorable day for Indian rowing.

Even before the celebrations of the first gold in the Indian camp had ended, there was more to cheer about as the lightweight men's quadruple sculls team comprising Saji Thomas, Rateesh Balyan, Bajrang Thakkar and Kudrat Ali clinched the gold with a timing of 6.10.69. This was a performance that justified the announcement of the Rowing Academy being set up at the venue by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Dr. Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy with the Government contributing Rs. 2 crore.

The Indians were in the mood to script a golden finish on the second and final day of the medal round. First, it was the turn of Indian women rowers — Swathi Sanjay, P. R. Raji, Julee Verghese and Pravasini Dwivedi — to win the lightweight coxless fours with a timing of 7.35.18, well ahead of the only other team in the fray, Taipei, which recorded 8.19.44. Such was the coordination among the Indian rowers that when they crossed the finish line, the Taipei rowers were crossing the 1750-metre mark.

The eights squad of Sunil Kakde, Ratheesh Devi Balyan, Praveen Dhull, Saji Thomas, Narayan Rathore, Pradeep Balyan, Darmesh Sangwan, Satish Joshi and Rakh Balu did not disappoint the holiday crowd, which was lustily cheering the Indians in most of the races. They were just too good for the only other competitors in the race, Kazakhstan, in the last race of the championship.

But, overall, the Chinese dominated and the final day was no different as they bagged six of the nine gold medals at stake while India emerged with two gold medals. India also bagged silver in the lightweight men's coxless pairs, thanks to Narayan Rathore and Praveen Kumar Dhull. The country's rowers won a bronze each in men's coxless fours, men's singles sculls and women's coxless fours.

Iraq's Hama Rashed Haider won the silver in the men's single sculls to bag the first ever medal for his country in its maiden Asian competition.

The Results

All finals: Men's coxless pairs: China 6.37.32, India (Gyanendra Khushawah, Haridev Kadyan) 6.47.25, Indonesia 6.52.16; Lightweight men's single sculls: Zhu Zhi Fu (Chn) 7.02.38, Theppibal Ruthanaphol (Tha) 7.14.08, Bajrang Lal Tarkhar (India) 7.18.28; Women's coxless doubles: China 7.29.81, Kazhakhstan 7.32.06, Korea 7.37.12; Lightweight men's coxless fours: India (Saji Thomas, Pradeep Balyan, Darmesh Sangwan, Satish Joshi) 6.13.68, Indonesia 6.19.68, Philippines 6.23.07; Men's double sculls: China 6.29.40, Korea 6.30.55, India (Sunil Kumar, Bajrang Lal Thakar) 6.32.09; Lightweight men's quadruple sculls: India (Saji Thomas, Rateesh Balyan, Bajrang Thakar, Kudrat Ali) 6.10.69, Kazakhstan 6.15.41, Thailand; Men's eights: China 5.48.11, India (Kadyan Haridev, Gyanender Kushawah, Thomas Jestin Joy, Raj Kumar, Sukjith Singh, Baldev Kalyan, Augustine Manoj, Gurdarshan Sandhu) 5.53.19, Kazakhstan 5.57.82; Light women's single sculls: Xiang Dong Xu (Chn) 7.40.50, Phuttharaksa Nikree (Thai) 7.49.82, Pere Karoba (Uzb) 7.54.60; Women's single sculls: Xi Ai Hua (Chn) 7.49.74, Fukuchi Ai (Jpn), Ju Chien Chiang (Tpe); Lightweight women's coxless fours: India (Sanjay Swathi, P. R. Raji, Julee Verghese, Pravasini Dwivedi) 7.35.18, Taipei; Lightweight women's doubles sculls: China 7.15.94, Thailand, Uzbekistan; Women's coxless fours: Kazakhstan 7.05.26, Korea, India (Mamata Jena, Kabita Shanti, Swathi Sanjay, Saroj Bala); Lightweight men's double sculls: China 6.33.78, Uzbekistan, Thailand; Lightweight men's coxless doubles: China 6.44.76, India (Narayan Rathore & Praveen Kumar Dhull), Kazakhstan; Men's coxless fours: China 6.14.54, Uzbekistan, India (Sukhjit Singh, Baldev Kalyan, Manoj Augustine, Gurdarshan Sandhu); Men's singles sculls: Hui Yong Cui (Chn) 8.08.97, Haider Rashed Hama (Irq), Sunil Kumar (Ind); Lightweight men's eights: India (Sunil Kakde, Balyan Ratheesh Devi, Praveen Dhull, Saji Thomas, Narayan Rathore, Pradeep Balyan, Darmesh Sangwan, Satish Joshi, Rakh Balu), Kazakhstan.