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.