Dattu Bhokanal commanded perfect control over his stroke-pace when he entered the quarterfinals of the men’s singles sculls at Lagoa lake — a beautiful setting of a natural river in the middle of a city; and perfect conditions to boot. Contrast that idyllic frame with the absolute storm that has wrecked his mind, and is rocking the boat of his life when he is on land. The health of Bhokanal’s mother Asha Bhavana Bhokanal, who suffered an accident a few days before the 23-year-old set off for qualification to Korea, is sinking, and the worried son is staring at the possibility of having to return to India after the Games, sell his house and start borrowing money to pay for treatment by a specialist in Delhi.
The army took care of the initial treatment — his brother too is training for the forces — but her condition has reached a stage where private medical intervention may be the need of the hour.
“He has this amazing ability to shut everything out and go out there and get the job done,” coach Paul Mokha had said. But there’s an underlining concern that’s never far from the army rower’s mind even as he prepares for the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
The army rowers don’t exactly share the best equations with the federation currently, and Bhokanal had stuck his neck out to demand continuing training with the army coach rather than with the national coaching regular. It’s not a decision that’s gone down well with the federation, and the rower is largely friendless in the Games village, sticking to his own routines, and also terribly shy of mingling with the high profile athletes who communicate in English.
“We’d have liked a better supporting environment for him, but he won’t complain. He’ll go about doing his thing, knowing that when he returns, things are going to turn difficult both in rowing and on the home front. It’d be nice to have a shoulder around his arm at his first Olympics, but he’s too shy to approach the big stars of the Indian contingent,” Mokha said.
As such, he managed the optimum necessary in his qualification — needing to finish in the top-3 in his pool.
In the first heat of the day, he finished the 2000 m race in 7:21.67s, behind Angel Fournier Rodriguez of Cuba (7:06.89s) and Mexico’s Juan Carlos Cabrera (7:08.27s), both scullers who regularly finish 8-10 positions in World Cups, a stage where Dattu doesn’t even compete often owing to limited funds.
His coach was happy with the pace, being initially worried that Dattu would allow the occasion to get to him, and race ahead and then falter and fade off. “He was not too hurried, and he stuck to a solid race plan. Yes the timing’s not looking great, but the goal was qualification, we got that done. Given everything that’s happening in his life, I’m happy he stuck to his plan,” Mokha added.
Bhokanal was going second in the first 500 m, but was overtaken by the Mexican by the 800 m mark. He finished 15th overall among the 18 who qualified for the round of last eight on Tuesday. Dattu has 7:7.49s in Asian Olympic qualification regatta at Chungju in South Korea. “I want him to know that no matter how many challenges await him back at home. This, the Olympics, is the only one he should be focussed on. We’ll see how it goes after that,” the coach said.