Kasam Khan and Inderpal Singh jointly became India’s first entry to the Olympics in rowing, at the 2000 Sydney Games, when they qualified for the Men’s Coxless Pair event. Dattu Baban Bhokanal came closest to winning a medal, having finished 13th in Singles Sculls, at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
For Arvind Singh, who hails from Khabra, a small village in Uttar Pradesh, conventional disciplines like athletics and the nation’s fever - cricket, was all he grew up watching. It was only when he joined the Indian Army to make a living that he actually came across rowing during an event. It was then that Arvind started to grow an inclination for the sport and showed vast improvements once he was aided with formal training. A lot has changed in the past four years - from having no knowledge of rowing to Olympic qualification.
On the other hand, Arjun Lal had also shown no interest in rowing until he joined the Indian Army. While he was posted at the Rajputana Rifles regiment in Delhi, he started rowing and an initial spark in him was recognized by former Olympian Bajrang Lal Takhar. The Rajasthan-based athlete was instantly shortlisted for the Delhi team. Surprisingly, Arjun got to know that rowers got to the Olympics only when he started formal training in 2015. Like the previous case, Arjun also went on to become a stranger to master the art of rowing within a span of three-four years.
However, it was only in 2017 that the two met for the first time and started training together at the Army Sports Institute, in Pune, from the following year. Three years of rigorous training, developing a bond between them has transpired the duo into a force to reckon with in the lightweight double sculls category. At the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, they were named as reserves behind the pair of Rohit Kumar and Bhagwan Singh, which eventually claimed a bronze medal at the event. However, their first major breakthrough was around the corner.
The team of Arvind Singh and Arjun Lal was summoned as the first choice to represent India at the 2019 Asian Championships, in Chungju, South Korea. The duo came back with the silver medal as India finished the competition with a tally of five. The win fuelled ambitions in their veins and they were set for conquering greater heights. Their progress was minutely supervised by national coach Ismail Baig at the Army Sports Institute, in Pune. But, the disappointment of missing out on the 2018 Asian Games was still fresh in their memories and it was so grave that they had written ‘2022 Asian Games Gold!’ on a notice board in their training base and peeped at it before each session.
The rising duo of Indian #rowing 🚣🚣, Arjun Lal and Arvind Singh will be showcasing the result of their comradeship at the #TokyoOlympics.— SAIMedia (@Media_SAI) June 27, 2021
Send in your wishes with #Cheer4India @PMOIndia @KirenRijiju @IndiaRowing @WeAreTeamIndia @ddsportschannel @mygovindia @AkashvaniAIR pic.twitter.com/QgNBX4CCEy
However, they have bigger things to worry about before 2022. A career-defining display at the Asia and Oceania Olympic and Paralympic Qualification Regatta, in Tokyo, saw them qualify for the spectacle. The team finished at the second spot in the men’s lightweight double sculls category, that too, at the venue where the rowing events would be staged at the 2021 Tokyo Games. The Indian duo finished behind the gold medal winning Japanese pair, clocking 6:36:92 to cover a distance of 2000m. So, for now, the Asian Games aspirations have taken a backseat and the Olympics now secures top-most priority.
As far as the preparations are concerned, the team is shaping up inside a bio-bubble, at the Army Training Node in Pune, under the watchful eyes of Ismail Baig. Meanwhile, Arjun has stated that they would be using the training sessions to improve their timings as well as work on their physical strength. They’ve already performed at the Games venue during the qualification event, but that won’t hand them an advantage. The conditions over there during the Regatta were pretty normal, which helped them acclimatize instantly, but it would be contrasting when the Olympics take place - more rough and challenging.
The rowers have been training in flat waters in Pune. But, the 2021 Tokyo Olympics will host the events in rough waters, which are very close to the sea and would be very challenging to get used to. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic situations, Arvind and Arjun won’t have the privilege of undergoing a dress rehearsal in rough waters ahead of the Games, as it is prohibited to train in other centres in India due to the strict quarantine rules. Speculating several issues, the duo is not overthinking and living on false hopes regarding their outing at the upcoming event. Anyhow, Arvind assured that there would be no lack in their efforts.
Ismail Baig, with immense faith in his wards, expects them to make it to the B-finals, which features the top-12 teams. Following then on, he wants Arjun and Arvind to take one step at a time, even though the national coach hates to mount any pressure on the Olympians. Sandeep Kumar and Manjeet Singh were the last Indian pair to feature in the lightweight double sculls event at the Olympics, during the 2012 London edition. They finished at the 19th spot overall. With the promise and camaraderie shown by the rowers in the past few years, hopes can be held high cometh the Tokyo Games.