Kamalpreet sets sights on Tokyo
- The lanky Kaur, who hails from the remote Kabarwala village in Punjab, turned heads when she qualified for the Tokyo Games after she sent the discus to 65.06 metres at the 24th Federation Cup Senior Athletics Championships held in Patiala.
After a hard day’s training at NIS Patiala, discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur would usually unwind watching her favourite teams Punjab Kings and Chennai Super Kings slug it out in the Indian Premier League (IPL). The decision to suspend the IPL came as a shock to her as it did to any other cricket fan: “All of a sudden it’s gone,” she said.
The 22-year-old then spoke of her dream of winning a medal for India in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. The lanky Kaur, who hails from the remote Kabarwala village in Punjab, turned heads when she qualified for the Tokyo Games after she sent the discus to 65.06 metres at the 24th Federation Cup Senior Athletics Championships held in Patiala. She even beat the seasoned Seema Antil to set a new record.
Daughter of a farmer, Kaur set a new national record and breached the Olympic qualification mark of 63.50m in the process. The previous record of 64.76 was set by Krishna Poonia in 2012.
Since the day she earned the Tokyo ticket, Kaur, who is sponsored by GoSports Foundation since 2019, has been approached by many Punjabis living in England, Canada and Australia for support. “After I set the new record in the Federation Cup and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, news spread worldwide. Knowing that I come from a simple family from a village, I was approached by so many Punjabis living abroad for any kind of support and wished me luck. Such encouragement really pushes me to train harder and go for a medal in Tokyo. Our country is facing so many problems due to the pandemic and so many lives have been lost already. I want to put in my best and win a medal in the Olympics and bring cheer to my fellow countrymen,” said Kaur, who started as a shot putter when young, even winning medals at district and state-level tournaments.
However, the physical education teacher at her school told her to switch to discus throw seeing her height and good build. And then she shifted to the nearby Badal village for better training in 2012. A couple of medals in the state and national championships made her more resilient and she joined Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Badal.
“I was never really good at studies and struggled in mathematics. In order to avoid early marriage, I knew playing a sport would be a good move. And I was nearly 6 feet by then. So, there was I trying my hand at the discus throw with full swing,” said Kaur, who idolises Croatian discus thrower Sandra Perkovic. Since 2014, Kaur has been training with her coach Rakhi Tyagi, who has had a big task in controlling her aggression and streamlining her diet.
“At the SAI centre I would get good diet and professional coaches. So, I took the sport very seriously. All I had in my mind was to win medals for my state and country. I even had the Indian flag along with the Olympic logo in my hostel room. I started following Krishna Punia,” said Kaur, who began to yield results as she became the under-18 and under- 20 national champion in 2016. In 2017, she finished sixth at the 29th World University Games.
“Kamalpreet has always been fond of food. A vegetarian, she would just gorge on aloo paranthas (potato-stuffed bread) with butter, rice and paneer bhurjee (fried, scrambled cottage cheese). So, when she would do well in training, I would myself cook her favourite food as a treat. Her aggression is her plus point but then it is also important that she doesn’t overdo,” felt the SAI coach Tyagi, who recently joined Kaur at NIS, Patiala.
Seeing her potential, Kaur was hired by Indian Railways in 2017 as a junior clerk. However, she was given a promotion post her record-breaking feat, making her a senior clerk. “Having a good diet, top equipment, along with a kit is required if you are aiming for international medals. A salary from Railways helped but it was not enough. That’s when GoSports Foundation helped. They even organised counseling sessions for mental toughness. I could not sleep for three nights ahead of the Federation Cup throw. I knew I had to compete with Seema Antil who had come from Russia and her body language suggested confidence,” said Kaur, who was included in the government-run TOPS scheme ahead of the Tokyo Olympics after her Federation Cup feat.
Back in 2018, Kaur was about to quit the sport when she failed to qualify for Asian Games in 2018 and had a dismal 61m throw in an inter-Railways tournament in Hyderabad. “I was returning from a back injury and was aiming to throw more than my personal best of 63m but could not. I needed 63.50 to qualify for Asian Games. I was really upset and wanted to quit. But then my coach told me to forget it and aim for Tokyo Olympics,” shared Kaur, who also seemed to have lost her touch a few months ago after a series of foul throws. That’s when her coach stepped in and fine-tuned her throwing skill-set.
“There came a time when she was training with another coach and trying new techniques and lost her form. Having spent so many years training her, I knew what the problem was. Then we worked on the flaws and she was throwing fine,” said Tyagi, who said there is a big chance that Kaur can create history at the Olympics with a podium-finish.
Poonia was the first Indian to qualify for the discus throw final at the Olympics. She finished sixth with a throw of 63.62m at the 2012 London Games. Kaur wants to better this and is seeking a medal for India. “I will give my best. I am training hard and want to aim for a 65m-68m throw. I want to be in the final and finish in the top-three,” said Kaur, who will next compete in an inter-state tournament in June.