India's rowing star Dharmesh Sangwan falls to rebel bullets in South Sudan

Mihir Vasavda Posted online: Saturday, Dec 21, 2013 at 0000 hrs
Mumbai : Former Indian rower Dharmesh Sangwan, an Asian Games silver medalist and Asian Championship gold medal winner, was among two Indian soldiers killed in an attack on a United Nations compound in South Sudan on Thursday night.

Sangwan, an Army subedar, was serving as a UN peacekeeper in the strife-torn region for the last six months. The other dead Indian soldier was identified as Kumar Pal Singh.

Rebels from the second-largest ethnic group, the Nuer, stormed the base on Thursday, targeting civilians of the majority Dinka ethnic community who had sought refuge there.

Sangwan, 32, was killed in the crossfire between the two groups. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Col C P Singh Deo, former president of the Rowing Federation of India and member of its executive council, said the entire fraternity was shocked by the news.

“There is a sense of disbelief at the ongoing national camp in Hyderabad. He was one of the best rowers India has produced. Everyone is in mourning,” Deo said.

Sangwan was regarded as one of the first stars of Indian rowing for his path-breaking performances at continental events and unparalleled dominance on the domestic circuit.

National coach Ismail Baig, who trained Sangwan through his career, said Sangwan was first spotted in 2001, thanks to some remarkable performances representing Rajputana Rifles as a teenager. “We selected 17 boys from Rajputana Rifles for the national camp in Hyderabad and he was among them. He was extremely talented and focused. We knew he had the potential to make it big,” Baig said.

Sangwan quickly stamped his authority on the domestic front. He was crowned the national champion in coxless four category, his pet event, in 2005, 2006 and 2009 and had won a silver in 2004. He extended his winning run at the Asian level as well.

He won gold medals in two different categories at the 2005 Asian Championships in Hyderabad. His silver in four coxless category at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha was India’s first rowing silver.

The following year, he won another gold at the Asian Championship in South Korea, triumphing in coxless pairs along with partner Satish Joshi. His timing of six minutes and 47 seconds was among the fastest in Asia at the time and the quickest in the country. He also took part in the World Championships in 2007 but could not replicate his performance.

Baig described Sangwan, who hailed from a remote Rajasthan village, as a “quiet” person. “But once in the boat, his energy level was infectious. He would be a different person altogether when competing. He was a great motivator. In team events, others used to look up to him to lift their spirits,” Baig said.

He retired from competitive rowing in 2009 and made a smooth transition into coaching. Deo said Sangwan was currently the coach of Delhi’s rowing team as well as Rajputana Rifles, where he began his career.

Sangwan, who would have turned 33 on December 29, was due to return on January 10. Baig said he was “looking forward” to joining the ongoing Indian camp in Hyderabad. “He texted me during Diwali and said he was looking forward to being present at the national camp once he returned on January 10. Next year is important for Indian rowers because of the Commonwealth and Asian Games. He wanted to help the young rowers,” Baig said.

Sangwan’s body is expected to reach Delhi Saturday.