CHENNAI: In discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur, there was just a glimmer of hope – fuelled by romanticism rather than rationale – that India’s long-standing search for an Olympic medal in athletics could reach its conclusion on Monday. Generations of sports fans at home have grown up with the fabled tales of how Milkha Singh and PT Usha came within a whisker of a medal in athletics – the holy grail for world sport – but fell agonisingly short. On a damp Monday evening in Tokyo, the burden of that history was lying on the broad shoulders of Kamalpreet.
The wait will have to continue, but Kamalpreet enhanced her growing reputation with the best throw of 63.70m and a sixth-place finish. She was pitted amongst some fine athletes – none more so than American Valerie Allman who claimed gold after hurling the iron disc to a distance of 68.98m in her very first attempt – but took another step in her burgeoning rise over the last six months. Her throw of 63.70m, which came in her third attempt, was good enough for her to make the cut for the final three of six throws.
For context, no athlete from India has done better in throwing events – Krishna Poonia also finished sixth in the same event in the 2012 London Olympics. Aside from Milkha (400m) and Usha (400m hurdles), who both finished fourth in their respective events in the 1960 and 1984 Olympics respectively, Gurbachan Singh (110m) finished fifth in the 1964 edition as did long-jumper Anju Bobby George in the 2004 Games.
Her coach Rakhi Tyagi – glued to a television set at her home in Moradabad on Monday evening – was pleased with the 25-year-old’s effort but rued the inclement weather in Tokyo. As a faint drizzle turned into a proper shower in the Japanese capital, the discus throwers struggled for grip inside the throwing circle, a few of them even slipping as a result and not landing their throws. Kamalpreet, under Rakhi’s watchful eyes, had trained and prepared for such an eventuality but struggled more than others in slippery conditions.
“We had trained in rainy conditions to help her prepare, but it still became very difficult. It had an adverse impact on all the throwers. But she, in particular, tends to struggle when it is raining. She was not able to put in her maximum effort,” Tyagi, who has been training Kamalpreet since 2014, told this daily on Monday. A tiny gripe for Tyagi was that she was not able to accompany Kamalpreet to the Olympics. Ever since the national record holder deplaned in Tokyo, the two were merely able to chat on video calls rather than have the former jumper personally oversee Kamalpreet’s sessions.
“I was not able to be with her at this crucial, sensitive time,” she said, a tinge of sadness palpable in her voice. The obvious upside is that Kamalpreet is only 25 years old and has a chance to learn from this experience to come back stronger in three years’ time. Before that, it remains to be seen whether India’s quest for a medal in athletics will be fulfilled. Over to the others!