Sculling success

Mohammed Ahmed, a member of the Indian coxed eights team that won the silver medal in the Asian Rowing Championship in China recently, with coach Ismail Baig at the Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

The Indian rowers dish out a noteworthy performance in the Asian Championship in China recently, claiming one gold, two silver and two bronze medals. By V.V. Subrahmanyam.

For long, the rowers representing India at the international level have been training in the polluted waters of the Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad. Moreover, most of them stay in a makeshift dwelling (like a shed) on the banks of the lake, but they always have a clear sight of their goals. And thanks to the untiring efforts of the chief national coach, Ismail Baig, who cannot think of a day without being in the waters, these rowers have proved themselves again with a noteworthy performance (one gold, two silver and two bronze medals) in the Asian Championship in Luan, China, recently.

As in the case of badminton (thanks to the chief national coach, Pullela Gopi Chand, and his academy in Gachibowli), Hyderabad has become the final destination of the Indian rowers too, as all of them train here and even the national camps are held in the city.

“Once we go in the waters here (Hyderabad), we just shut ourselves from the rest of the world. We train very hard, try to pick up a few new things that should help us become better rowers. Essentially, we enjoying every training session here,” says Sawarn Singh, who won India’s only gold medal at the Luan meet in men’s singles scull.

India’s performance in the Asian meet is also a reflection of Ismail Baig’s commitment. The coach, who by now knows the Hussain Sagar Lake and the winds blowing here very well as he has been training many rowers for close to two decades, goes through his daily routine of guiding 60-odd trainees meticulously.

“This (Hussain Sagar Lake) is still the best available facility for rowers in India and is in the heart of the city. Fortunately, the top officials of the rowing federation are from the city and this helps us a lot,” says Baig.

“Without Baig, we can’t think of anything. He is like a father figure to us, never gets agitated and always takes pains to help us,” says Sawarn Singh of the Sikh Regiment in the Indian Army.

The success stories of rowers such as Sawarn Singh and Mohammed Ahmed, whose father sells meat to the rowers at the Academy, are simple proof of how the attitude of the rowers changes once they join the camp.

Sawarn Singh... India's lone gold medal winner in the single scull event at the Asian meet.-

Sawarn, whose parents are farmers in Mansa (Punjab), rarely feels that he is away from home. “We are in a different world, always dreaming big like representing India and winning medals,” says the rower who finished 12th in the 2012 London Olympics.

“Three years ago, medals in this sport were almost unthinkable. But thanks to Ismail sir, who coaxed me to take up rowing when I used to accompany my father to the Hussain Sagar Lake, I developed a passion for the sport. Now I am happy that I am representing my country and winning medals too,” says Mohammed Ahmed, the ‘cox’ in the Indian coxed eights team that won the silver medal in China.

The 20-year-old rower was drafted into the CRPF recently, thanks to the efforts of Baig.

Interestingly, the Rowing Federation of India’s academy at the Hussain Sagar Lake has so far produced one gold medal winner (Bajrang Lal Thakkar) at the 2010 Asian Games, several other medal winners at the Asian-level championships and three Arjuna Award winners (Jenil Krishnan, Bajrang Lal Thakkar and Satish Joshi).

“We have great satisfaction in consistently winning medals at the Asian level. And we hope to win quite a few in the Asian Games next year,” says Ismail Baig.

The coach, however, is disappointed that the men’s lightweight four event — in which the Indian team of Lokesh Kumar, Manjeet Singh, Rajesh Kumar Yadav and Satish Joshi won the silver medal at the last Asian Games — does not figure in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.

What really is a major handicap for the Indian rowers?

“Well, we find it difficult to win medals in events where we cannot take our own boats, as it happened in the recent Asian Championship in China. Honestly, the standard of boats given to us there is not worth talking about. Otherwise, the fact that we are challenging rowers from China and Iran to win medals is something we feel proud of,” says Baig, one of the youngest recipients of the Dronacharya Award.

MEDAL WINNERS Men’s single scull — Gold: Sawarn Singh.

Coxless four — Silver: Kapil Sharma, Md. Azad, Maninder Singh & Davinder Singh.

Coxed eights — Silver: Anil Kumar, Robin, Bajrang Lal, Ranjit, Kapil Sharma, Md. Azad, Maninder Singh, Davinder Singh & Md. Ahmed (cox).

Lightweight men’s double scull — Bronze: Sonu Laxmi Narian, Shokindar Tomar.

Lightweight women’s quadruple scull — Bronze: Monalisha, Dittymol, Chaoba & Amusana Devi.