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Home Rowing Forgotten Heroes: Pravin Kr Uberoi - India’s first Arjuna Awardee in rowing

Forgotten Heroes: Pravin Kr Uberoi – India’s first Arjuna Awardee in rowing

Rowing, in its present form was brought to the Sub-Continent by the early British settlers. Rowing clubs sprung up in the main trading posts, wherever suitable stretches of water were found near their settlements. In 1933, the Amateur Rowing Association of the East (ARAE) was formed amongst clubs from the East and an annual regatta was organized in December every year. 

Rowing has not been a popular sport in India. It remained mainly restricted to the Indian army, however, India has had a promising rowing culture with successes coming at the Asian level. One of the pioneers of India’s rowing journey was Major Pravin Kr Uberoi, who held the distinction of being the captain of the Indian Rowing Team for the 1982 Asian Game, and it was under him, India first won a medal at the Asian Games – a bronze in 1982 held in the Country. 

Pravin had an active interest in sports since a young age and was a recognised sportsman in his college days. While he was pursuing his civil engineering degree at the Benaras Hindu University, Pravin was the captain of the University football team. He also represented the university in hockey, badminton and table tennis. The one sport which was very close to his heart was squash. “I was not interested in rowing first, I was a squash player at the College of Military Engineering, Pune. The facilities at Pune were really good and my aim was to excel in squash. However, in the inter-course championships, there were 18 sports but squash was not included among them. We wanted to win the championships in our department. And everyone urged me to take up rowing. So that’s how it all started and we won the championships.” said Pravin in a conversation with The Bridge

Pravin Kr Uberoi receiving Arjuna Award in 1983

Despite his newfound love in rowing, he continued playing squash. He represented in the Services Squash team for three years for the National Squash Championships and even reached the semi-finals in 1974. He was also the winner of the Services Championship for three consecutive years.

In 1976, he went on to participate in rowing nationals, however, their team displayed a lacklustre performance, which came a big moment of truth. They worked hard and polished their technique for another year. In 1977, Pune national rowing championships, Uberoi and his teammates from Maharashtra bagged the gold. This was the the start of his successful journey in rowing. Between 1977 and 1994, he won the national championships for nine years. Pravin was also one of the first members to form the Rowing Federation of India (RFI). 

The biggest challenge came was during the 1982 Asian Games, which happened back in India. The rowing event was scheduled in Jaipur at the Jamwa Ramgarh Lake. “I was the captain of the Asian Games team, we moved our base to Jaipur, six months before the tournament and we were training every day with different players and combination. Our time trials were also good. It was in the coxed pair event, I won the bronze with Mohammed Amin Naik and Deependra Tomar. I was better suited for coxless pair, where we could have won the gold,” says Pravin.

Pravin Kr Uberoi being felicitated by UP State Government ion 2018. with wife Poonam.
Pravin Kr Uberoi being felicitated by UP State Government in 2018, with wife Poonam.

It was the Asian Games success that earned Pravin the Arjuna Award – first Indian to win the award in Rowing. In 1983 Pravin and his teammates participated in World Championship in Germany, where they could only finish in the 14th spot. The team, however, achieved a significant betterment in their timings, which couldn’t be broken in the next 10 years. In the same year, Pravin was part of the team that won the Bronze Medal at the Nile Regatta, Egypt Games. 

Before the 1986 Asian Games, Pravin who had turned 30, was appointed as the coach of the Indian national team. “The opportunity was offered to me and I decided if I don’t take this chance, I wouldn’t be getting another, so I quit y rowing career and started coaching,” said Pravin. 

At the Asian Games in 1986, India’s participation was not decided till a week before the competition and hence they couldn’t send their rowing boats to Seoul in Korea. It was in the last moment, the team was chosen for the Games. And since they couldn’t participate in Indian boats, they were offered poor quality Korean boats to compete. He was the coach of the team for three Asian Games.

He was the recipient of the Best Coach Award for 1994 by Sports Ministry Govt Of India. In 2001, he joined as the government observer for two tenures, for Sporty Ministry and Youth Affairs through Sports Authority of India.

As a coach of the Indian team, he went on to produce as many as 5 Arjuna Awardee rowers. Pravin was also the advisor for the construction of the only man-made eight-lane rowing course in Pune.

His contribution to the sport earned him Vishist Sewa Medal in the Indian Army, two Chief of Army Staff Commendation Medals and a Northern Command Army Commanders commendation Medal.

Also read: Rowing: Here are the top 5 rowers from India

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