Tokyo Olympics: Kamalpreet joins India's history of near-misses in Athletics
The tragic streak of Athletics near-misses at the Olympics continues for India with Kamalpreet Kaur finishing sixth in Women's Discus Throw tonight
Kamalpreet Kaur. A name frankly unheard of even until a couple of months ago took popular sporting discussions in the country by storm after forcing herself into the final of Women's Discus Throw at the Tokyo Olympics with a majestic throw.
As she entered the arena tonight, with a quiet shy smile on her face and a great deal of pride beaming in her eyes, she knew she was standing on the cusp of glory. A glory that had evaded India in the sport of athletics at the Olympics since its very independence. She was all aware of the tragic curse awaiting her at the final.
Kamalpreet's mind must've harkened back to the singular obsession of getting past her personal best – a mammoth 66.59m recorded at the Indian Grand Prix-4 in Patiala almost a month and a half ago. That throw would've won her the gold in Rio 2016, when she was still unsure of making it as an athlete. It would've clinched her the bronze medal tonight when she has reached the highest stage there is for an athlete. Well, not quite.
Alas, the curse lives on. It wasn't meant to be.
In a night marred by rain, and controversy, and some stupendous other-worldly composure and performance from 'the accidental Olympian' Valarie Allman who secured the gold medal with her very first throw of the match, Kamalpreet had to endure multiple mammoth challenges.
Just before her third attempt of the match, she was on the verge of getting eliminated in the very first round. But she held on. She wasn't going down that easily, no sir. She held on to produce her best throw of the night during that moment of trial and tribulation and, like her discus, she leapt to the sixth position from her earlier ninth place.
Having secured her objective of making it to the final round, all Kaur needed to do was match her personal best in order to break the jinx and win India an Olympics medal in athletics for the first time. But lady luck wasn't wearing an Indian blue jersey tonight. Milkha Singh had made a historic mistake in 1960, PT Usha dared to dream in 1984, Anju Bobby Geroge came close in 2004. Kamalpreet in 2021. And so it went.
Each of those three occasions is firmly embedded in India's folklore and heritage, even beyond the horizon of sports. Kids grow up hearing about those tales from their parents or grandparents or come across them in GK books in school. Heck, a Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra film led by the stunning Farhan Akhtar made the late, great Milkha Singh's moment mean larger than life since 2013.
In India, we love romanticizing the struggle. 'Haseen dard,' it's commonly labelled in Urdu, the colourful language of poetry. So much of our daily lives revolve around that concept. Like a corny line out of a John Green novel, we look at pain head-on and say, 'it demands to be felt.'
Most of the country's populace comprising farmers, daily wage labourers, and a staggering middle-class considers luxury and comfort as a foreign, out-of-place object. Something that comes to you, not naturally, but only when you earn it. So, we choose to suffer, hoping that postponing luxury for the next moment, the next instance will secure our very present. In hindsight and retrospect, it seems funny, no?
Indian sports is no different. How could it? A popular channel that unites the often-divided billion people of the country resonates with that dogma through and through. It is built in the image of Indians. To suffer, and suffer, and suffer, and then win might just be embedded in our DNA.
Between Moscow and Atlanta, there was a 16-year long limbo where we didn't win a single Olympics medal, 44 years since the last individual medal.
It took Leander Paes to show that contrary to popular imagination back then, it can be done. It took Karnam Malleswari becoming the first Indian woman to win a medal in the Millenium Games in Sydney to inspire Mirabai Chanu to silver a week ago. From having no Indian woman touch the glory of the Olympics medal to having the last five medals all won by female athletes, we've come a long way.
It took Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, and Vijay Kumar to get to the current generation of Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker. PV Sindhu won her silver and bronze in consecutive Games on the shoulders of her senior Saina Nehwal who claimed a bronze in Beijing 2008 and Lovlina Borgohain credits part of her success to MC Mary Kom's legendary career.
Kamalpreet Kaur is here because Krishna Poonia also finished sixth in London 2012. Kamalpreet's 63.70 tonight was better than Poonia's 63.16 in the capital of Great Britain. The girl from Badal herself, or someone else, will come along once again and throw further than what she did tonight. The process goes on, the results will come. And so will that long, elusive medal the country has craved so long. Abhinav Bindra's gold took 61 years. I've got a feeling that this time, it won't be that hard a wait.
And so, still tied to the curse in cruel irony, all we can do now is hope. Sure, the struggle is hard, it's been so long, but there's light at the end of the tunnel. When we get there, it will be worth all the pain and anguish.