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Asian Games 2023: With nine finalists, coach Baig hopes for the beginning of a rowing success story


Coach Ismail Baig (centre) is cautiously optimistic about doing well in Hangzhou.
| Photo Credit: V.V. Subrahmanyam

The best Asian Games ever for Indian rowing was way back in 2010 when the country won five medals including the first-ever gold. With finalists confirmed in nine of the 14 events here, long-term coach Ismail Baig is cautiously optimistic about doing better this time around.

On Friday, Balraj Panwar became the ninth rower and the only one in an individual event to reach the Final A by finishing 3rd in the single sculls semifinals.

It is the same event in which Bajrang Lal Takhar won gold in 2010 and Baig, national coach since 1998, has had a hand in every little success India has enjoyed in the sport.

“We won a gold and bronze each and three silvers in 2010. We won three medals in the next two editions but this time we are trying to do better than that. I am hopeful we can get those medals,” the soft-spoken Baig, said.

Reaching the finals in so many events itself has been an achievement for the inexperienced group, especially with three events in the women’s category – a bronze in the coxless pairs bronze in 2010 remains the lone medal by Indian women rowers.

“Only one rower here – Sukhmeet Singh – has a medal and has been part of the Asian Games before (he won gold in the men’s quadruple sculls in 2018). Arjun (Lal Jat) and Arvind (Singh) have been to the Olympics and World Cups but not the Asian Games, they were on standby last time around. They have international experience but they are also in the toughest event while for the others, there definitely will be a lot of pressure. So it is positive news for us to have medal contenders in so many events.” he added.

“We need to remember that there are six participants in the final and only three get a medal. In some events we have a very strong chance but there will be very competition in others. The actual contest for these rowers will be on the 24th and 25th, that’s when the job needs to be done,” he stressed, playing down any talk of expectations.

“They are all very young with not much exposure and this is a big moment for them. The pressure of the moment will of course be on them even though they have the raw potential. Even the kid who qualified today (Balraj) started only in 2020! So while a medal will be definitely welcome, the experience they get here will be a lot more important in three years’ time if they continue to learn and grow,” Baig hoped.

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