A rare left-handed thrower, boasting the smooth turning action of a southpaw, Tejinder Pal Singh Toor won India’s first gold medal in athletics at the Asian Games. He writes right, chuckles that he eats with both hands — especially if it’s mithai and no-one’s looking — but hurls the shot with his left.
He used the left to devastating effect smashing the previous national record for a throw of 20.75 m while maintaining remarkable consistency through the final. “When I moved from cricket to athletics, throwing with the left hand came naturally to me. It was my stronger arm, and the action was smoother than most righties,” he would say as he followed his opening throw of 19.96m with 19.15m, a foul, returning to 19.96m and then raising the bar to 20.75 metres before ending with a 20m. His 20.75 smashed previous national record of 20.65 that was set by Om Prakash Singh six years ago.
Tejinder almost didn’t head to the Asiad, though. His father is undergoing treatment for Stage IV cancer and the thrower after returning from the Commonwealth Games had lost motivation unwilling to leave his father’s side. “He’s getting better with treatment. It’s very little improvement, but maybe this medal will help,” he would say.
Shot put had also been his father’s decision urging him to follow in footsteps of his uncle, a shot-putter.
“I used to be an opening batsman playing for teams in my village. Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh were my favourites,” he recalls of a childhood that was spent dawdling away with a bat in his hand until his father put his foot down.
“He wanted me to play an individual sport. I wasn’t so sure, but today I have won an Asiad gold, so he was right,” he said.
Medals came at the World university and Asian levels and he was priming for a big 2018 when his father’s health deteriorated. He needed to be persuaded by his coach MS Dhillon to head to the CWG, and the coach told him going to the Gold Coast would ease things for him at the Asiad. “At that point I was in no condition to take these calls in sport,” he recalls.
After ensuring his father would be treated at Patiala on his return, Tejinder would head to Dharamshala for a camp. It was three months of intense training, where his coach followed an inverted pyramid.
“First he would get my throws training done. Then I would increase the intensity of workouts with squats and high-paced training,” he says, adding that crossing 21 metres was his initial target.
At one point he was lifting 200 kg and putting in 12 sets of repetitions on the bench press.
The coach would tut-tut on Tejinder’s obsessive love for gol-gappe and launch into why the khatta snack would cost him a medal when things got difficult.
“Today I’ll break it to the coach that while he thought I had stopped eating gol gappe, I, in fact, was having them regularly at Dharamshala. Now with a gold, he might not get very angry,” he would laugh.
If there’s one thing that trumps Tejinder’s love for gol-gappe, it is his irresistiblity to shoes. “I love owning throwing shoes. Size 12. I often get them from Australia and US,” he adds.
His technique though was completely overhauled by Dhillon. “Though my turn was good, I’ve had to work on details on weight transfer and neck fitness,” he says. His coach believes he is on a diet of lean meats and dry fruits, but those close to him chortle that he still gorges on his gol gappe and a “rationed bit of mithai”. Self-rationed that is.
“I think I’m right handed when I eat. But maybe I’m two-handed,” he jokes, turning the gold over from left hand to right.