Discus thrower Kamalpreet Kaur’s coach Rakhi Tyagi had packed her bags for Tokyo. She was part of the official send-off ceremony and even went to the airport hoping the glitch in her accreditation would be sorted in time for the flight.
“There was some issue with my accreditation. But till the last minute, I was hoping for a miracle to happen. However, it didn’t,” says Rakhi. This meant 25-year-old Kamalpreet had to compete at her first Olympic Games without the presence of her “Didi” and coach for seven years.
Even though Rakhi was in Patiala, her heart and mind were in Tokyo. She would be on the phone with shot putter Tajinder Singh’s coach Mohinder Singh Dhillon, who relayed her coaching advice to Kamalpreet from the stands. After a best throw of 64m in the qualification round, Kamalpreet eventually finished a respectable sixth in the final.
“It would have made a lot of difference if I were present there physically. An athlete’s motivation level goes up when they’re being watched and guided by their coach. During one national meet, she had made some poor throws and I was there to correct her. She then landed a decent throw,” says Rakhi.
Rakhi and Kamalpreet share a very strong bond that goes beyond the field. They were flatmates for some time when the railway employee trained under her coach at Badal. “She didn’t have accommodation then so I asked her to stay with me,” recalls Rakhi.
Kamalpreet, the first Indian woman to breach the 65m mark and the current national record-holder, looks back on those days with gratitude. “Mera kaam tha training karna, khana aur sona. (Training, eating well and taking rest were the only tasks assigned to me). And sometimes when the domestic help took an off, I would happily sweep and mop the floor,” she says.
Rakhi clearly remembers when she first met Kamalpreet more than seven years ago. “I saw this well-built girl making throws and someone told me she was Kamalpreet. After the event, she walked up to me and asked if I could coach her.” Rakhi says she’s never said no to any kid who has approached her for training.
Thus Kamalpreet was enrolled in Rakhi’s group of about 15 which had hammer, discus, and shot put throwers. She trained with the group but was given a “little extra attention”.
Dealing with disappointment
Kamalpreet quickly progressed and regularly medalled at the Nationals but had always harboured bigger dreams. The 2018 Asian Games, she thought, would have been an ideal stage to turn her into a recognised international athlete. But she couldn’t touch the qualifying mark of 57m which would have earned her a ticket to Jakarta.
Kamalpreet was so disappointed that she even contemplated quitting athletics and pursuing a career in cricket. “Mein bowling bhi fast karti hun aur batting bhi. (I bowl fast and score fast runs as well). I don’t like the defensive game,” she says passionately.
“I was demotivated after failing to qualify for Asiad. I felt miserable but my coach showed faith in me,” adds Kamalpreet. “Didi (Rakhi) convinced me to stay and try again.”
Cricket’s loss was athletics’ gain. Reluctantly, she agreed to continue and threw 61m at the very next meet. “I googled the results of the 2014 Asian Games and realised this throw would have earned me a medal for sure,” says Kamalpreet. Since then, she has never looked back.
At the Federation Cup in March this year, she became the first Indian woman to breach 65m with a throw of 65.06m which earned her Olympic qualification. Kamalpreet rewrote the national record in June with her career-best throw of 66.59m.
“I owe everything to Rakhi. I would have never reached so far without her. I share everything with her. I am restless at times and she helps me keep calm,” she says.
Coach Rakhi has high hopes for her ward. They are eyeing a podium finish at the World Championships slated for July 2022. “Her greatest strength is her aggression. That’s what propels her. She trains hard. She was once doing sprint training and the quarter-mile national coach Galina (Bukharina) saw her and playfully told me to send Kamalpreet to her for sprint training after discus.”
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