In a rollicking start, Indian rowers powered their way to two silver and a bronze medal in the Asian Games, here on Sunday.
On a pleasant morning with the conditions just perfect for rowing at the Fuyang Water Sports Centre, Arjun Lal Jat and Arvind Singh opened the country's account with a silver medal in the men's lightweight doubles sculls event.
The Indian duo clocked 6:28.18s to finish behind China's Junjie Fan and Man Sun, who won gold with 6:23.16s.
The Uzbekistan pair of Shakhzod Nurmatov and Sobirjon Safaroliyev bagged the bronze clocking 6:33.42s.
The silver was just a precursor of the things to come as the gruelling men's coxed eight event saw a keen tussle between China and India before the latter finished second with a time of 5:43.01s, which was 2.84s behind the host team, which clocked 5:40.17.
The Indian men's coxed-eight team comprised Neeraj, Nareskh Kalwaniya, Neetish Kumar, Charanjeet Singh, Jaswinder Singh, Bheem Singh, Puneet Kumar and Ashish.
Indonesia, who clocked a time of 5:45.51s, were third.
"It was a great race for us. It went according to the plan we had gone over with our coach and teammates yesterday," said Dhananjay Uttam Pande, who performed the role of a coxswain in the team, said.
"My role as a cox is to guide the boat, give them the right instructions about what pace to maintain in the race, and which team to focus on. My job is to make all the eight members think together." The achievement is all the more creditable given that rowers from powerhouse Uzbekistan and Japan finished fourth and fifth respectively.
"Our target was not to neglect main teams like Uzbekistan, Indonesia and Japan. We wanted to build pressure on them and then target China for the win," Pande said.
His teammate Neetish added: "We have been training together since 2019, and attended all the camps at the same time. We still have more events to go tomorrow, so we will celebrate together only after that." In the coxless pair event, India's Babulal Yadav and Lekh Ram settled for a bronze with a time of 6:50.41 sec, behind Hong Kong (6:44.20 sec) and Uzbekistan 6:48.11.
Arvind said they were aiming for gold but an injury two months ago hampered his training.
"We missed training for 20 to 25 days as I was having lower-back pain two months back. Our aim was to win gold but because of my injury, I wasn't able to push myself as much. Even during the trials, I was battling this injury," said Arvind.
"I went to Hyderabad to get treatment and the physio there really worked on getting me back in good shape. I resumed practice and only because of that have I been able to win this silver medal," he added.
"We will now work for the Paris Olympics and then try to win gold at the 2026 Asian Games." His team-mate Arjun said they had the gold medal on their mind.
"Gold was the target but we did our best. Our coach told us to just do our best. We could not do our (personal) best of 6:19, which we did at our Army nodal centre in Pune," said Arjun.
On the reason they fell back after taking a sizeable lead around the 500m mark, Arjun said, "We pushed hard and did our best today." Arjun and Arvind have been training together for the last four years and it sowed in the fine coordination the pair forged on Sunday.
"We had been training for this (event) continuously for the past four years. We had made it to the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021," said Arjun, crediting the triumph to Rowing Federation of India and the Sports Authority of India, who have provided them with regular training camps and international exposure.
"In the repechage, we did as the coach had guided us to battle it out in every quarter of the race. We just tried to follow his instructions. Today, he (coach) just told us to do our best. We put in our best effort. We couldn't win gold but we have been able to win silver here." On what the silver medal meant for the the duo, Arjun said, "I wanted to win an Asian Games medal since the time I took up into rowing. Whenever I practised I would think to myself about winning an Asian Games medal, the colour doesn't matter," added Arjun.
India have sent a huge contingent of 33 rowers to the continental games.
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