New Delhi: Indian rower Dattu Baban Bhokanal on Monday qualified for the Rio Olympics after winning a silver in the men's single sculls event at the FISA Asian and Oceania Olympic Qualification Regatta at Chung-ju in South Korea.
The 25-year-old armyman clocked 7 minutes and 07.63 seconds in the 2km course to finish second. The top seven in the finals qualify for the Rio Games.
Nashik-born Bhokanal, who trains at the Army Rowing Node (ARN) in Pune, was on course for a gold medal finish as he was leading the five-man field till the 1,500 metre mark but Korean Dongyong Kim (07 mins 05.13 secs) overtook him at the final stretch.
"We are very much delighted that Dattu Bhokanal has qualified for the Rio Games in men's single sculls event by finishing second in the Asian Olympic qualifying event in Korea," Rowing Federation of India Secretary General Capt. Girish J Phadnis told PTI from Mumbai.
"His Olympic qualification is a welcome development for the sport of rowing which has been doing well for some time. We have been having a Indian rower for every Olympics since 2000," he added.
India could not, however, book a Rio berth in the men's light weight double sculls as the pair of Vikram Singh and Roopendra Singh finished fifth in the finals. Only top three qualify for Rio Olympics in this category.
Phadnis also said that Bhokanal will be the lone Indian rower taking part in Rio Games as no more qualifying events are left now. By virtue of qualifying for the Rio Games, Bhokanal is expected to be included in the government's Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme which funds medal prospects in their training and preparation.
Bhokanal will be the ninth rower to represent India in the Olympics after Kasam Khan and Inderpal Singh (Sydney 2000; men's coxless pairs), Paulose Pandari Kunnel (Athens 2004; men's singles sculls), Bajrang Takhar (Beijing 2008; men's singles sculls), Manjit Singh and Devender Khandwal (Beijing 2008; men's lightweight double sculls) and Sawarn Singh (London 2012; men's singles sculls) and Manjit Singh and Sandeep Kumar (London 2012; men's lightweight double sculls).
Born in Nashik in 1991, Bhokanal comes from a humble background and took to rowing in 2012 at the BEG Centre at Kirkee in Pune. In 2013, he shifted to ARN, Pune for better training.
He won two gold medals in the 2014 National Rowing Championships, representing the Services and represented India at the 2014 Asian Games in China.
Bhokanal's best international achievement so far was winning a silver in men's single sculls in the 16th Asian Rowing Championships in China last year.
Considering Bhokanal's rise to the top level in such a short span of time, Phadnis said that he can even spring a surprise and finish at the podium in Rio Games.
"He took to rowing very late. He has been rowing for just four years only and he has won a silver in Asian Championships last year and now he has qualified for the Olympics. He should be in the top 10 in Rio but you never know he can spring a surprise," Phadnis said.
Asked if Bhokanal may be sent abroad for training to prepare for for the Rio Games, Phadnis said, "We will discuss it with Bhokanal and his coach once they return from Korea and take a call whether he will go abroad or not. Time is short now but for sure he will go for high altitude training."
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