World Rowing Federation (FISA) officials were thrilled with the debut of coastal rowing at the 5th Asian Beach Games after Thailand and Indonesia snared the first gold medals on offer on Wednesday. The exciting format, which combines sand and sea with competitors having to run on the sand to their boats then navigate a series of buoys before returning to the shore and sprinting to a flag, was a huge hit with competitors and spectators at Bien Dong Park.
Thailand’s Sangpromcharee Nuttapong won gold in the men’s solo event after beating Hong Kong’s Law Hiu Fung by less than a second in a thrilling finish while Indonesia’s Chelsea Corputty won the women’s gold ahead of Thailand’s Pitukpaothai Tippaporn.
“The success of this event has been massively significant for the whole world of rowing,” FISA executive board member Guinevere Batten said. “To be able to see the beach format on a really traditional, exciting beach where tourists would normally be on, is such a world away from our normal rowing, it’s absolutely amazing.”
While Olympic rowing has traditionally been dominated by the United States, European countries and to a lesser extent Australia and New Zealand, the sport has been rapidly building steam in Asia. China has already won nine Olympic medals and now other Asian countries are playing catch up, increasing their funding levels and recruiting top foreign coaches to develop their most talented rowers.
Thailand’s success on Wednesday comes shortly after the arrival of Pietro Milos as coach of the team. The Italian is in charge of the senior team but is also targetting younger competitors with the right physical attributes to compete on the world stage in years to come.
“The potential in Thailand, and all of Asia, is the same as Europe,” he said. “At the moment, Thailand does not have as much experience as European countries but they have amazing potential so we are working hard with lots of juniors that can be great rowers of the future.”
None of the Thai rowers competing in Danang had raced in ocean events before but the team spent four months training for the event at Sattahip Bay and the added challenges of dealing with the waves, wind and choppy water has been a great experience for the team. “My goal is to go to the Olympics but this has been a lot of fun,” Sangpromcharee said. “We’ve worked really hard and from the first moment we came into camp for this, I have loved the sport.”
Indonesian rowing officials have also been working hard at strengthening their national team, spending 10 days in Vietnam in March as part of pre-event camp organised by the Asian Rowing Federation just for the Beach Games.
Indonesia picked a team of 16 top rowers including Corputty, who won her national lightweight singles sculls title earlier this month then successfully transferred her skills to the ocean to win the women’s solo gold. “She is a very strong rower, one of the best,” Indonesia coach Budiman Setiawan said. “But this format is not just about being strong, you also have to be very agile."