CHENNAI: After a gap of two years, army rowers will take part in the 36th senior national rowing championships to be held at the Army Rowing Node facility in Pune from December 4. The event was initially supposed to be held in February, but brought forward after the Services Sports Control Board agreed to end their ‘boycott’ and offered to join with the Rowing Federation of India (RFI) in hosting the event.
Most of India’s rowing medals have come from army athletes and their absence saw returns dwindle. Even in the recent Asian Rowing Championships in Thailand, India managed only one bronze medal, in the LM-4 lightweight men’s coxless fours. But army rowers had been staying away from the nationals because of the feud between RFI and the Army Rowing Node. None of them took part in the event in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
This meant they were not eligible for India selection, since RFI rules say only those who take part in the nationals can be considered. After the Rio Olympics, rowers like Dattu Bhokanal could not take part in any international event. “There will be two teams from the army. One from Services Sports Control Board and the other from Army Sports Control Board. We had to restrict the number of teams to two. Otherwise, the entire championship will be dominated by the army and it won’t be fair on the other states and teams,” Rajlaxmi Singh Deo, president of Rowing Federation of India, told Express.
With the Asian Games coming up in Jakarta next year, this is a positive as far as Indian rowing is concerned. In the 2014 edition, Indian rowers had won three bronze medals. “The Indian team is No 2 in Asia. With just civilian and amateur rowers, we managed to win a medal in the Asian Rowing Championships and the inclusion of army is going to be a good move for the country. We are a strong team and want to win as many medals as possible,” said Balaji Maradappa, treasurer, RFI.
New foreign coach
Rowers will also benefit from the arrival of experienced Romanian coach Nicolae Gioga, who led Romanian women to back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2000. Gioga worked with the Iranian team during the Asian and World Championships this year.
“He will be taking charge on Monday (November 13). He will be going to the 38th junior national championships in Jagatpur, Odisha, from November 14-19, followed by the senior nationals,” informed Singh Deo.
“He will come back in January when decisions regarding the team to represent India at the Asian Games in Jakarta will be made. He will be assisting national coach Ismail Baig during the two tournaments to find out the best possible team,” added the president.