When Kamalpreet Kaur takes to the field tomorrow, with the hopes of billions riding on her, she will not just be competing against 11 other world-class athletes in the Discus Throw final. Like she has mentioned before, she will be fighting with her blood and soul to fight for her right to continue competing in sports and defy archaic social norms. She will also be battling a curse that seems almost time immemorial. The curse that binds Indian athletics with the Olympics in cruel irony.
In its sporting history as an independent country, India hasn't managed to win an Olympics medal in Athletics. There have been several near misses which have gone down in popular folklore. We've all heard about the late, great Milkha Singh's legendary run in Rome 1960. He finished his race with a time better than the world record but was the fourth person to do so in the same race. We've all known PT Usha's exploits in Los Angeles 1984.
Tomorrow, Kamalpreet Kaur has a chance to not only change the way we approach and talk about athletics but also be a bigger inspiration for young girls and boys with dreams bigger than the houses they live in scattered all over the country to find a reference point to fuel their own personal ambitions.
It isn't going to be easy. The pressure that inevitably comes with the Olympics gets to the best of the best. But hear the scream of the 25-year-old after she threw a 64m, look at the pride glistening across her face as she held the India logo on her bib and tell me she was unfazed by the occasion.
A very difficult challenge awaits Kamalpreet
One glance at her opponents tells the entire story – the challenge is going to be difficult. Four of Kamalpreet's competitors have season's bests better than her own 66.59m which arrived almost a month and a half ago at the Indian Grand Prix-4 in Patiala.
USA's Valarie Allman has been in red-hot form and she was the first to breach the qualification barrier – doing so, with a jaw-dropping 66.42 throw! She has also thrown a gigantic above-70 this season and seems to be in her element. Then there's the defending champion Sandra Perkovic of Croatia who has the greatest personal best among all the competing athletes tomorrow – 71.41m. And how can we forget world number one Yaime Perez of Cuba who has a season's best of 68.99?
Odds might be stacked but there's a cause for hope
The odds might be stacked against Kamalpreet Kaur but on the basis of form in the Heats, she certainly doesn't seem too far off. The 25-year-old nailed 60-plus throws in all three attempts and along with Valarie Allman, was the only one to secure direct qualification by touching 64m.
Sandra Perkovic and Yaime Perez had recorded 63.75 and 63.18 respectively. Judging by that, there will be no shortage of confidence in the 25-year-old from the village of Badal that she can get the job done.
Sure, you can argue here that the greatest athletes barely look to stress themselves during the Heats and that their sole focus would've been to qualify for the final where they can get the job done since qualification marks don't matter. But the same logic can also be applied for Kamalpreet Kaur who surely has a gear or two above what she showed on Friday.
Building up to the Olympics, she had repeatedly said that her aim would be to outdo her own self on the biggest stage. What Kamalpreet's opponents throw in the final is not in her hands, but she has a big say on how well she manages the nerves and embraces the opportunity. The journey up till here hasn't been easy, but tomorrow, Kamalpreet has the chance to go from being an obscure, unheard name up until a few months ago to become a figure of legend in the country.