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From a drought-hit village to India's rowing Olympian: The touching story of Dattu Bhokanal

Dattu Bhokanal Rio 2016
Dattu Bhokanal comes from a small village called Talegaon in Mahrashtra
Modified 26 Jul 2016, 19:07 IST

Yesterday, Armyman Dattu Bhokanal won the silver in the finals of the men’s single sculls at the 2016 FISA Asian and Oceania Olympic Qualification Regatta at Chungju in South Korea.

He may have qualified for Rio 2016, but 24-year-old Dattu Bhokanal’s road to the Olympics was not an easy one.

Born in the constantly drought-hit village of Talegaon, Maharashtra, close to Pune, Dattu only saw water in his village when it was supplied by tankers.

People in the young rower’s village were seriously affected by the lack of water. Sadly, many of them, afflicted to severely, added to a worryingly growing statistic of farmers committing suicide with their crops failing due to the water crisis.

The oldest of three, Dattu Bhokanal was forced to give up his education after the tragic death of his father, the family’s sole breadwinner. It was that loss which also prompted him to join the Army, but that decision was a shocking one for his family, who had expected him to get into farming.

Lured by the idea of a steady income for his family, Bhokanal moved to Pune and joined the army. The then 20-year-old, who had no prior introduction to the sport, took up rowing for the first time at the city’s Bombay Engineer Group and Centre in Khadki.

It was the first time the youngster had seen that quantity of water, and in a poignant statement said he had wanted to transport the water back to his drought-hit village.

He excelled  at rowing at the training centre, and after being sent to the Army Rowing Node began training at the National Rowing Camp. That training would pay off, with Bhokanal winning silver at the Asian Rowing Championship in China in 2015.

Bhokanal may not even have had an Olympic spot had experienced Indian rower Swarn Singh not been out of commission; Singh, currently nursing a back injury, was unable to participate, giving Bhokanal his spot at the Olympic qualification event in Chungju.


Despite his professional succcesses, Bhokanal’s life has been marred by family tragedy. After losing his father five years ago to bone cancer, Bhokanal is currently trying to nurse his ailing mother, who took a fall hours before he left for China and his qualifying event and sustained a brain injury.

She is currently in recovery as her 24-year-old son charts his way to Rio de Janeiro in hope of Olympic success.

Published 26 Apr 2016, 20:34 IST
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