They both experienced the giddy high of an Olympics — Swarn Singh Virk (27) had created ripples at the London Olympics five years ago making the Last 8 with a national record at the Eton course on the way to that high. Dattu Bhokanal (26 now), more recently in Rio, would also give a good account of himself finishing in the Top 15 of the world. India’s two Olympians will square off in what should be a heady race as the showpiece final of the Rowing Nationals at Pune’s Army Rowing Nodal course on Friday.
Both rowers have battled some serious setbacks in their lives since the public spotlight shone brightly on them at the Olympics. While Swarn had a nasty fall and needed years to patch back together his damaged back – with extensive physiotherapy and medical interventions at SRMC in Chennai, Dattu had to deal with tragedy in his family regarding his ailing mother who had suffered a fall before he went to the Olympics and suffered extensive brain damage. If the sport wasn’t hard enough, both have undergone serious trauma of varied kinds, but are back on the waters and will go head to head in the finals.
While Swarn, a fighter to the core, edged Dattu at the Services trials where the latter was recovering from an illness, Dattu pipped him by a mere 0.6 seconds in the penultimate round on Thursday, that had everyone lined up to watching the exciting race.
Off the waters they are known to be good friends trading notes, but the two will be snapping at the other’s heels in the finals with Swarn back to his previous best where he’s happily clocking 25-28 strokes per minute.
The rivalry should be good for the sport and will be the big race with two Olympians appearing in a Nationals final of the single sculls that has qualified a rower for every Olympics since 2004. While the two are matched in strength, Swarn’s known for his shooting bullet start in the first few metres, while Dattu is more a steady-paced sculler who maintains his rhythm and discipline – though not changing his pace on the return run of the 2000 m may have cost him in international races and will be something the spirited Swarn will look to exploit.
It promises to be a race to savour between the two strapping competitors, given the proximity to the Asian Games next year. 9 am at CME in Pune, two of India’s fittest athletes will set waters on fire.