Tajinder Pal Singh Toor is a giant of a man. Even in athletics meets, where the average competitor is well-built, the shot put thrower stands out for his burly frame.
It’s even more amusing when his coach Mohinder Singh Dhillon describes him as a child, “Yeh toh baccha hai ji (He is just a child).” Both coach and protege share an unbreakable bond, Dhillon having trained Tajinder since 2013.
At the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang, Tajinder is expected to dominate the Shot Put competition and duly does so, cranking up the pressure on the other competitors with his first throw of 19.96 metres.
It’s a good one, and one which none of his competitors will match throughout the competition. He will have three more attempts which either match the first one or eclipse them, a measure of his dominance over the field.
The second one is 19.15 and the third one is a foul and coach Dhillon clearly wasn’t happy, gesturing to Tajinder as the field is pruned to eight from the original 12 after the third round of throws.
For Tajinder, who wanted to be a cricketer before his father intervened asking him to try out other sports, this performance would have been enough to win the gold but his coach wasn’t happy with what he saw.
As the broadcast commentator lackadaisically points out, Tajinder is in deep conversation with ‘someone elderly from the stands’. Dhillon says, “We have a few code words. I was trying to get my message across. Ask him to go for it.”
When asked what he meant by Tajinder ‘going for it’, Dhillon responds, “I wasn’t happy with the flow of his throws. Told him to get it out of his arm cleanly. Hence the record-breaking throw.”
It doesn’t work instantly, as Tajinder lurches back on his fourth throw, and seems to indicate that it wasn’t a clean release with a gesture of the hands to Dhillon in the stands. It’s still good enough to fetch him 19.96 once again. Flagbearer and Indian athletics ‘poster boy’ Neeraj Chopra and good friend, the triple jumper Arpinder Singh cheer him on from the sidelines.
A criticism of Tajinder prior to his gold medal on Saturday was that the 23-year-old did not perform at major international events. Following his 20.40 metre throw at the 2017 Federation Cup with a 20.24 one at this year’s edition, it was expected that the thrower from Moga would prove to be competitive at the Commonwealth Games.
At Gold Coast however, that throw never arrived as the six foot-four inch Tajinder never really threatened the competition, ending up eighth with a throw of 19.42 metres.
After returning from the CWG, Tajinder would introspect. “I never really did do enough there. It just didn’t click for me there.”
Dhillon had predicted that his charge would throw upwards of 21 metres. It hadn’t looked likely till his fifth throw at the Asiad. As he pirouetted, the left-handed Tajinder hurled the iron ball a mighty long way and celebrated like the child that Dhillon had described once he saw that the shot put had definitely crossed 20 metres.
‘20.75’, read the scoreboard. Not only was it a new national record, it was also a new Asian Games record. No one, at least no Asian at the Games in 2018 was going to come close to that. Tajinder had delivered what had been asked of him during the break in the finals; he had closed all the doors on his competitors.
On the evening, Tajinder was only thinking about his father, “This medal is my biggest achievement because a lot of sacrifices have been made. For the last two years, my father (Karam Singh) has been battling cancer. My family though never let me get distracted. They allowed me to chase my dream. A lot of sacrifices have been made by my family and friends, and all of it has been repaid today.”
For the Navy man, a medal at the world or the Olympic level remains a distant possibility, albeit one he is now closer to. The new Indian national record holder has the right target in mind; a throw in excess of 21 metres would be a step in the right direction and affirmation that Tajinder Pal Singh Toor has well and truly arrived.