It was a moment of immense satisfaction for the broad, six-feet-one-inch girl from Patiala when the disc she hurled with a smooth action landed on the yellow line marked out in the belly of the vast Olympic Stadium. It was set at 64.00m, also known as the automatic qualification mark for the women’s discus final.
Saturday’s task completed, chalk dusted from the hands, she wouldn’t hide her emotions. She pointed her finger at the Indian camp in the gallery, where the team coaches and other support staff were seated. “She is a fighter and I’m sure she did convey the message in choicest Punjabi,” a noted coach back home chuckled over the phone to TOI.
The 25-year-old, who set a new national mark of 65.06 in March this year and improved it to 66.59 in June, was feeling stranded at the Games, with the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) deciding not to allow her personal coach Rakhi Tyagi for the Tokyo trip. Then followed the mind games, the accusations from a much-venerated senior India colleague. Kamalpreet was gracious enough to simply term them as “unsubstantiated accusations,” without taking names, but the story is well-known by now.
Veteran thrower Seema Punia, who ironically failed to qualify for Monday’s final, managing only 60.75m, had asked the Athletics Federation of India to carry out a hyperandrogenism test on Kamalpreet after those March and June throws of 65.06m and 66.59m catapulted her to No. 6 in the world.
It left the 25-year-old mildly scarred but not really shaken, as Saturday proved. She was in her element as she answered her critics with one big heave on the world’s biggest stage. Kamalpreet opened in Group B with a decent effort that landed at 60.29m and then got within touching distance of the final berth with a second effort at 63.97m.
Watching TV in Patiala, coach Rakhi was nodding along as her ward went through her routine. “Kamalpreet told me that she was a little nervous on her first attempt but then she got over it. My prediction is that she will go near to the 67m mark in the final,” Rakhi, who has been training Kamalpreet since 2014, said.
A clerk in the Railways, Kamapreet’s third and final try ended as second best on the list of 12 toppers who made the final cut. Just two of the 12 finalists made the automatic qualification mark. Valarie Allman of the US, with 66.42m, was the other.
For Kamalpreet, it was as if the discus event was taking place in some heroes gallery. She was getting to rub shoulders with her idols, and was naturally over the moon when she was congratulated by her hero, the Croatian Sandra Perkovic. The double Olympic champion will be one of her main rivals in Monday’s final.
“Kamalpreet was very excited. She said both Sandra and Valarie Allman came over and congratulated her on her fine show. Kamalpreet told me, ‘I was touched, I am, like, a nobody when compared to them,’” Rakhi said.
Besides Perkovic, who entered the final with a best of 63.75m, and Allman, the Indian will also face a stiff test from Yaime Perez of Cuba and Chen Yang of China.