Hyderabad: “I hope this is just a beginning, it’s good for the growth of rowing in our country,” said a happy Ismail Baig, national coach after his 17-year-old disciple D Sai Raju’s won a bronze in the Asian Rowing Championship which concluded in Pattaya, Thailand on Friday.
For a country where rowing is not the most popular of sports, Sai’s achievement is an eye-opener of sorts. The 17-year old Sai under the tutelage of Ismail, who is also the State coach, has been doing the rounds in the national arena for some time. But the Visakhapatnam-born lad made a giant leap with a surprise gold at the Asian meet taking his game to another level.
Ismail though wants to take it slow and he has reasons to comply. “It takes time to sink in, that too when it’s by players who are under-18 years. He is still young and needs to better his performances and be more consistent,” he explained.
Sai is just one among many promising talented rowers from the State, according to the national coach. “We have Geetanjali Gurugubelli and Hemalatha Bedda who are coming up. They both are in the junior-category. Hemalatha is only 12 years old, but is a capable competitor in the junior section,” he continued.
The State now has stood out with its consistent and increasing contribution in the number of players to the national side over the past three years. The national side which took part in the Sub-Junior Asian championship earlier this year had four State rowers.
“In 2014, we started digging for talents. And we needed players who took it competitively. That’s when we came up with setting up a grassroots system and making them ready for the big stage,” the coach said.
Ismail and his crew of coaches started handpicking talents from the Telangana Sports School in Hakimpet. And soon results followed. Sai was one such talent, who belonged to the first batch.
“Rowing is a costly sport. Moreover we don’t have a culture in schools where rowing is a sport. You need physical strength to handle all the weight which you can only when you are ten or 11 years,” he explained.
Ismail and his team selected young kids in the sub-junior and junior sections to groom them into future stars. In three years’ time State rowers have won 40 medals that too in the international stage- a significant development which according to Ismail is not one to be left out easily.
“See when India participated in 2004 Olympics in Greece, our Indian side finished 24th among 30 other countries, while in Rio we finished 13th. It’s a steady growth. But it is change, in a country where rowing has no roots. It’s more of a step-by-step procedure,” the coach continued.
The coaches are also strict in maintaining a proper diet and physical fitness. “Doctors from Sports Authority of India (SAI), Bengaluru come every three months and conduct medical tests.
They send us the result and we take appropriate measure,” Ismail elaborated.
Despite lacking proper funding from the State and the Centre, Ismail and the other coaches work in tandem spending from own pockets to help the kids achieve their dream. Except for space provided by the Rowing Federation of India and Sports Authority of Telangana State (SATS) near the Hussain Sagar Lake, they are entirely in need of sponsors.
“It is hard, money is never sufficient. They do give us but a very meager amount. It’s a costly sport. I wish it changes. We have a meeting soon with SAI,” he said.
What excites the coach further is a lot of civilians have taken up the sport which earlier used to be a one taken up by army or policemen. “We now have many civilian kids practicing with us.
It’s a big comfort knowing people are following it and coming forward,” the Dronacharya awardee concluded with a smile.