'We have to improve our training'

Asiad gold medallist Bajrang Lal with C. P. S. Deo, president, Rowing Federation of India.-V.V.SUBRAHMANYAM

“Honestly, after this Asian Games gold, I have already started thinking about a medal in the 2012 London Olympics,” says Bajrang Lal.

The 29-year-old Bajrang Lal has been staying in a makeshift shed on the banks of the Hussain Sagar Lake (Hyderabad) for close to a decade. These rowers rarely complained. “We have to live with what we are destined to but we do hope that things will change a lot after this Asiad gold,” remarked Bajrang Lal.

“This is our home and we are all proud to have come from here. What you people should remember is that our national pride takes precedence over everything else. For us (Armymen), this feeling is all the more discernible. And my joy knew no bounds when the national anthem was played after my gold,” asserts the Rajasthan-born rower.

First spotted by the unassuming Dronacharya Ismail Baig, Bajrang Lal has been a consistent performer at the international level, winning six gold medals.

How do these rowers keep motivating themselves? “The unbridled zeal to keep doing well for the country coupled with the commitment and dedication of our coach (Ismail Baig) and the active president C. P. S. Deo (President of Rowing Federation of India),” is the spontaneous reply from Arjuna Awardee Jenil Krishnan, who picked up two silver medals in the Asiad.

“There is no point in complaining. But we are hopeful that once we keep winning like in the Asian Games, we will get more recognition,” says Bajrang Lal.

Interestingly, the Rajasthan State Government has announced a cash incentive of Rs. 15 lakhs, a house plot and Rs. 5 lakhs for training to this gold medallist. “This is a good news and should inspire my fellow rowers to look ahead and dream big,” he says with a smile.

What is his next goal? “Honestly, after this Asian Games gold, I have already started thinking about a medal in the 2012 London Olympics,” says Bajrang Lal. What is he looking for to realize that dream? “I think we have to improve our training programme and look for much better equipment,” he said.

Interestingly, the Indian rowers were left high and dry after reaching Guangzhou because the specified boats from Germany got stuck in Customs clearance for two weeks. This forced Deo to use his good offices to rush Pune Army unit boats (he spent Rs. 40,000 from his own pocket to transport them from Pune to Hyderabad) to Asiad venue just three days before the competitions began.

“I had to take the risk for I had immense faith in these rowers about winning medals. And, I tell you, this is the day we have all been waiting for so long,” exclaimed Deo.

Anil Kumar, Saji Thomas, Ranjit Singh and Jenil Krishnan won the silver in the men's four event while Lokesh Kumar, Manjeet Singh, Rajesh Kumar Yadav and Satish Joshi also picked up silver in the lightweight men's four event. Finally, the men's eight team comprising Lokesh Kumar, Satish Joshi, Saji Thomas, Jenil Krishnan, Anil Kumar, Rajesh Kumar Yadav, Manjeet Singh and Girraj Singh clinched the third silver.

Even the teenaged duo of Pramila Prava Minz and Pratima Puhana of Orissa, created history by clinching the first medal for women winning a bronze in the pairs event.

It was a remarkable achievement. “We were just hoping to do really well and come back with a medal. And, when it happened, it took some time for the feeling to sink in,” they say.

Being familiar in the national circuit, this magnificent duo, born in Orissa and who like all the Indian rowers made Hyderabad their ‘second home' for training purposes, is now justifiably looking ahead. “We are inspired by the bronze medal and we are now determined to prove that this is no flash in the pan,” they asserted.

V. V. Subrahmanyam