Ill health cost him a sure shot medal in his pet event single skulls but the backing of his teammates was key to a much-improved performance in the quadruples where he won a gold medal, said ace rower Dattu Baban Bhokanal.
Bhokanal was in the second position for the most part of the single sculls race but would freeze around the 1200m mark before finishing sixth as his boat capsized.
Recalling his plight, Bhokanal said he contracted cold while on the flight to Indonesia.
“I thought it was a minor thing but it got aggravated after landing there because of the climate change from Pune. On the race day, I rowed with 104-plus fever and the boat also toppled to add to the misery. Water got into my ears and nose and I lost out on a definite gold medal,” Bhoknal said during a felicitation at the Calcutta Rowing Club on Saturday.
But the entire team stood by him as he returned to make amends in the team event to win India’s only second gold at the Asian Games rowing, the first being Bajrang Lal Thakkar’s in Guangzhou 2010.
“I was really depressed to have returned with empty-handed from my favourite event. But my teammates stood by me and told me ‘don’t worry we can still win the team event’,” he recalled.
He took complete rest for the quadruple event scheduled days later and that his teammates experienced Sawarn Singh, Om Prakash and youngster Sukhmeet Singh were fully fit and that made up for his weak health due to a heavy dose of antibiotics.
The quadruple sculls squad also changed their tactics after the dismal show by being steady only to step on the gas in the last 500m as they move did pay off as won the race by close to three seconds.
Their success was however dampened after India’s foreign coach Nicolae Gioga from Romania was fired hours after India bagged gold.
There were a tussle between the Romanian coach and the Indian rowers and it came to the fore during the Games with the latter openly criticising the rowers while his methods were not liked by his wards.
“I do not want to comment on that. I took advice from our Indian coach as well and foreign coach too. I have delivered under both of them so I would not like to blame anyone,” Bhokanal said.
India coach Ismail Baig, however, said they never got along well with the 66-year-old Romanian, who had coached many Olympic teams.
“He has a brilliant track record. But it just did not click with us. He never listened to the players and went about his ways,” Baig said.
Also felicitated were Dushyant Chauhan, who defended his third place in lightweight single sculls, and the men’s lightweight double sculls duo of Bhagwan Singh and Rohit Kumar.
India’s heptathalon gold medallist Swapna Barman, gold medal-winning bridge duo of Shibnath De Sarkar and Pranab Bardhan were also present.