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History beckons as Indian discus thrower breaches European stronghold to reach Olympic final

Discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur was among the only two athletes who achieved the 64-meter qualifying standard for the finals in Tokyo on Saturday (Image courtesy: Twitter/@KirenRijiju)

This coming Monday, the whole of India, and not just Punjab, will be rooting for Kamalpreet Kaur as she takes the field in the discus throw final at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium. The 25-year-old will not only be up against the most competitive line-up of 11 other throwers – many of them former Olympic champions and world record holders – but also history. No Indian athlete has ever won an Olympic medal since it gained independence in 1947. It can all change if Kaur shows the same strength and grit which was on display during the qualification today when she became the first Indian in athletics to make it to the final at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Making her Olympic debut, the athlete from Kabarwala village in Punjab's Muktsar district, entered the final by attaining the qualification mark of 64m. Even as the pressure took a toll on her idol Seema Antil – the other Indian participating in the same event and one of the most experienced in the contingent with Tokyo being her fourth Olympics – who failed to move ahead of the qualification round, Kaur held nerves and carried on with her good form this season to keep the medal hopes alive.

Now, having qualified for the Tokyo Olympics with a national record attempt of 65.06 meters – the first Indian woman to breach the 65m barrier – and a 66.59m throw in the Indian Grand Prix last month, the expectation bar has naturally been raised for Kaur ahead of the Monday final.  

Like that of most of the Indian athletes, Kaur's journey to the Olympic final too has been full of many ups and downs. In spite of a back injury and missing competitions and regular training due to the Covid-19 lockdown, she has not let her focus slip en route to Tokyo Olympics.

Right from taking to discus throw for the first time at school in 2012 to hurling it past the 60m mark at the Lucknow Inter-Railway Championships in August 2018 and returning to the circle after lockdown with a 65.06m throw in the Federation Cup this March, the daughter of a proud farmer has been harvesting hopes for a greater glory someday.

Kamalpreet Kaur Olympics

Kamalpreet Kaur after her throw of 66.59m at Patiala, last month (Image courtesy: Twitter/@AFIIndia)

Just like the Malaysian weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who had won a historic gold at Tokyo earlier this week and trained by lifting mineral water bottles with a bamboo pole, India's Kaur too had devised new methods of training during the Covid pandemic by lifting beds and other household items.

Currently ranked World No. 32, the lanky athlete from Punjab would be taking on some of the best-ever female discus athletes in the final. There are the likes of Croatia's Sandra Perkovic who's gunning for her third back-to-back Olympic gold and also Cuban World No. 1 Yaime Perez. Their personal bests and recent performances go beyond the 68m mark.

However, what matters in sport is the performance on the given day. Today, Kaur and Valarie Allman of the US were the only two competitors who achieved the 64-meter qualifying standard for the finals. The organisers had to then add the next best performances in order to create a field of 12 for the event final.  

Can Kaur repeat her spectacular form again on Monday? Well, a billion plus Indians will be backing her to rewrite the history books. As the Indian women have shown at Tokyo Olympics, and even at Rio in 2016, you can simply not write them off at the world's biggest sporting stage.

Also Read: A runaway success – the story of an Ethiopian who won first athletics gold of Tokyo 2020 Olympics