Manpreet Kaur had nowhere to go in the last four years but she could not stop either. There was no real target to chase but she was striving to match the performance of athletes in real competitions during, what she called, "monotonous training". That's all the shot-putter could do after being slapped with a four-year ban for flunking a series of dope tests in 2017.
On her return to competition, there were usual performance-related fears and the initial poor results only created doubts but she managed to shrug off all the negativity to heave the iron ball to 18.06m during the ongoing Nationals, bettering her own national record of 17.96m which she had set in 2015. The 31-year-old Manpreet shared the emotional turmoil she endured following the ban.
"There were thoughts of what I should do, whether to quit or continue. I did train but when you are playing competitions, you have targets to achieve. There was no target for me during that four-year period (of ban)," Manpreet said in an interview.
"You were just going and training, those are difficult, no doubt," said Manpreet, who made a comeback during the National Open Championships in September last year. "There was some mental pressure in the last few competitions, thinking that people would watch keenly how I will do after coming back. The throws were bad in the last five competitions before this one. I came here to do better than the earlier five."
Manpreet was handed a four-year ban from July 2017 onwards after testing positive on four occasions that year. It is not the first time that she has hurled the iron ball to more than 18m but her massive 18.86m performance in 2017 was erased from the record books after failing the dope test. Her gold-winning performance of of 18.28m at the 2017 Asian Championships in Bhubaneswar was also struck out.
Manpreet, who is now a Railways employee just like her husband-cum-coach Karamjit Singh and based at NIS Patiala, said she took a lot of time to come out of the tough period.
"It took time to be mentally strong and come out, tried to ignore what others say and overcome the pressure," said Kaur who began her career way back in 2006 as a junior athlete. "But my husband (posted at Patiala) and my family gave full support and told me I should continue with my sport and focus on training with a free mind."
Asked further about the kind of training she underwent (in the Railway stadium in Patiala) during the ban period, she said, "It was a bit relaxed, not full time training. Instead of two sessions in a day which I do now, I would do once-in-a day. "When there was a national competition or some events, we would set targets and do a kind of mock competition or trial to do better than the participants in the actual competition."
She admitted that competition will be tough during the upcoming Birmingham Commonwealth Games (July 28 to August 8) but can be in the medal range if she converts the training performance to actual competition.
"I am doing 19m during training and if I get close to that in the CWG, I can 100 percent win a medal. But everybody knows the hardest part is to convert training performance to that in actual competition. I hope to do my best."
The gold medal winner in the 2018 CWG had thrown 19.36m while the silver and bronze medallists had produced 18.70m and 18.32m performances.
"There will be tough competition from shot putters from Jamaica, England, Canada, New Zealand. But, it will also depend on the performance of the day. I will keep my fingers crossed."
Manpreet said it's challenging to train and look after her family at the same time. She has a daughter, Jasnoor, who is now studying in fifth standard. Manpreet said her daughter had told her to come back home and not train anymore after she won gold in the 2017 Asian Championships.