London: India were never in contention for a medal but the 16th-place finish in single sculls and 19th in the lightweight double sculls in the Olympic Games were clear indications of the huge gap the country`s rowers still have with their international counterparts.
Swarn Singh Virk ended 16th in the single sculls while Sandeep Kumar and Manjeet Singh just avoided getting the wooden spoon lightweight double sculls with a 19th-spot finish among 20 participants.
23-year-old Punjab lad Swarn did a decent job by winning a repechage round after finishing fourth in the heats with a personal best effort of 6:54.04 at the Eton Dorney Rowing Centre. He later finished fourth in the quarterfinal round and had to compete for the minor placings races.
Sandeep and Manjeet disappointed from the beginning of their campaign as they finished fourth in the first round heats and then sixth in the repechage. That means they had to compete for the wooden spoon, which they avoided by beating the Egyptian team.
National coach Ismail Baig, though, was a satisfied man at the way his three-member rowing team performed at the Olympics.
"We trained hard for this competition and achieved our target here. I am not a person who will offer excuses. When we came here we had three objectives -- improving the timing, bettering performance level and be much focused in the competition. I think we achieved those objectives. They performed better than expected," he said.
"Our performance has instilled more confidence and self belief among the rowers. They are now prepared to perform on equal terms at international arena," said Baig who has been with the rowing team for more than 11 years including being at the helm of affairs for three successive Olympics.
"I think we lived up to the expectations by performing creditably, finishing much ahead of some of the strong teams. And remember 30 countries out of 33 did not win any medal in rowing competition," he said. The coach was particularly happy about Swarn`s finish.
"A fortnight ago I had said that if India finishes among first 15 in the Single Scull event that itself will be a big achievement and we ended 16th. In Beijing, Bajrang Lal had finished 21st in the field of 30. Here Swaran was 16th among 33 rowers," Baig said.
"Swarn did well as he made it to the second round. That is what we were expecting from him. His timing of 6.54 sec in the first round was very good. Earlier he used to do over 7 minutes," he said.
"His group had some of the best teams- Cuba, Iran, Korea, Belgium and Mexico and we finished fourth and that is why we had to go through another round consisting best losers and we topped that round to make the cut for next round. In the last race we finished fourth and ended overall 16th," he said.
"In double sculls, Manjit Singh and Sandeep Kumar were placed 19th out of 24 teams. In double scull we did not lose much, rather I will say we gained a lot."
Baig, however, admitted that there was a huge gap in standards between the Olympics and the Asian Games -- where India won nine medals, and it`s a long way to go for the country to compete against the best in the world.
"We are Asian Games winners. We had beaten teams like Korea, Iran and Japan. But if we keep on basking in the glory of that achievement it will not do any good to rowing in the country," he said.
"Rowing is not a lucrative sport in India. There are only some clubs in India who have started rowing but mostly it is the Army which is the mainstay of this sport. And we need to keep competing at very high level, especially with European teams," said Baig.