A successful campaign in the track and field events in the last year’s Asian Games vaulted many athletes to dizzying heights of stardom. Many shed their tags of anonymity to revel in the newfound adulation. But the mood in the house of the shot put gold medallist Tejinder Pal Singh Toor in the Khosa Pando village in Punjab has remained sombre and subdued.
The 24-year-old may have overcome the distractions of his father’s illness to blaze the shot put field in Jakarta, but he could not win the race to meet his father after coming first in his event. Battling throat cancer, Karam Singh breathed his last before Tejinder could return home with the gold medal. Plans for a raucous victory procession had to make way for a tearful last journey of the father of the most famous son of the village.
“I took around a month’s time to recover from the loss. But just when I was looking to get back on track, I was struck by an illness," recounts Tejinder in an exclusive chat with Firstpost. Tejinder was admitted to a hospital in Patiala for ten days where he underwent treatment for a serious viral infection. “The infection was very severe and when I returned to training I could hardly throw the iron ball. I am gradually regaining my strength but I am still yet to reach the peak of my fitness. At a time when I was planning to build on my impressive showing in Jakarta, the setbacks took a toll on my progress," rues the Asian Games gold medallist.
Amidst the bleak tidings, the only bright spot for the young athlete has been the news of getting an opportunity to train in New Zealand, a powerhouse of world shot put. Once the visa formalities are cleared, Tejinder is expected to train in Auckland under the famous shot put coach Didier Poppe who had once worked with Valarie Adams — a two-time Olympic gold medallist and four-time world champion in women’s shot put.
En route to the gold medal in the Asian Games with a throw of 20.75 metres, Tejinder not only set a new national record held by OP Karhana (20.69 m), the Punjab shot putter also created a new Asian Games record earlier held by Sultan Abdulmajeed of Saudi Arabia (20.57m). “My aim is to break the 21m barrier this year and I am targeting 21.60m at the World Championships in Doha. After the World Championships, I will still have 10 months for the Olympics. This is the time in which I will be looking to push myself to cross 22.50m in time for the Tokyo Games," says Tejinder.
In the last Olympics, Ryan Crouser of USA won the gold with a throw of 22.52m but in 2018, Tomas Walsh of New Zealand has topped the charts with the best effort of 22.67m. Last year, four shot putters have crossed the 22m mark which means the current Indian national record holder will have to raise his performance by several notches to come anywhere close to a place in the finals of the major international tournaments.
“Tejinder still has to work on a couple of technical aspects especially before the throw. He needs to balance his body weight correctly before the launch and he also needs to finetune the position of his free arm-the hand with which a shot putter is not hurling the iron ball with," says Mohinder Singh Dhillon, Tejinder’s coach who will accompany him to New Zealand. Dhillon will assess the training facilities and the standard of the other shot putters training alongside Tejinder. “If we are satisfied, we will make Auckland his permanent training base till the Olympics."
“Tejinder could have worked his way up further in the last year if not for his father’s ailment. There were crucial practice sessions in Patiala which were interrupted because Tejinder had to rush home to arrange for chemotherapy sessions for his father. There were times when I attended to his father so that he could practice," recounts Dhillon.
The performance began to dip and Tejinder finished a lowly eighth in the Commonwealth Games. To prevent frequent distractions, Dhillon convinced Tejinder to shift his training base to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. “As a coach, I had to be harsh. While training in Patiala, he used to travel to his village frequently to meet his father. While the journey time between Patiala and his village was barely two hours, it would take him more than eight hours to travel from Dharamsala. He was now more focussed about his game as he had cut down on his frequent trips to his home. This helped him to come up with a record throw in the Asian Games," explains Dhillon.
Despite the tough times, Tejinder is happy that he has got the recognition and the financial rewards after the Asian Games performance. “Life is more comfortable now but I do not want to blow it up. For a sportsperson whose shelf life can be short, fame and wealth are transient. Therefore, I have desisted myself from swanky cars or a lavish house. With the cash rewards, I have mostly invested them in fixed deposits. Success makes you greedy and the Asian Games gold has fired me up to strive harder. I do not mind the toil if I can once again hold aloft the tri-colour in an international competition."
Despite his Asian Games glory, Tejinder is yet to stamp his credentials on the world stage. This year could well be the breakthrough year for one of the rising stars of Indian athletics.
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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2019 14:11:21 IST