Up until June this year, Kamalpreet Kaur wasn't even seen as a Tokyo Olympics medal contender but her huge national record 66.73 metres discus throw at a low-key tournament like Indian Grand Prix 4 changed all that. The girl from Punjab didn't just make a mockery of the previous Indian record, she placed her among the best-ranked throwers as far as the season was concerned.
Skeptics were still uncertain if the 23-year-old discus thrower from Punjab will replicate her performance at the biggest stage in 2020 Tokyo Olympics as that's how Indian track and field athletes have often turned up at the Games. However, a big 64m throw in the qualification round -- making her only the second thrower to earn a direct qualification -- put all those doubts to rest and placed her among one of the favourites for a medal.
To understand the magnitude of what she has done, on Monday, if everything goes right, Kamalpreet will become the first Indian track and field athlete since the 1904 Olympics to win a medal -- a success that has eluded Indian athletics greats such as Milkha Singh, PT Usha, Anju Bobby George among others.
While expectations are high from Kamalpreet to register her name in the history book, make no mistake, nothing less than her national record will get her close to a medal as the competition is neck-to-neck.
What Kamalpreet has achieved in this Olympics is a first for any discus thrower and remarkable in its own right but a look at her competitors in the final reveals that capping off the performance with a medal will be a big challenge.
The favourite to clinch the gold medal on the day is the USA's Valarie Allman, who topped the qualification round with a 66.42m throw ahead of Kamalpreet. And it won't be wrong to say that Allman is just warming up as her season-best of 70.01m came at the USA Olympic Trials in June. It wasn't a freak throw by any means as she consistently threw 68 and above in the pre-Tokyo Tune-up event.
With Kamalpreet ranked just below her in the qualification round, fans might be beginning to feel hopeful that a silver medal is still in sight as other throwers didn't even breach the direct qualification mark.
However, if one takes a glance at the history of the games or any major athletics competition, the top contenders often stretch their limits and improve on their qualification round throw by multiple metres. For instance, the 2019 World Athletics Championships women's discus throw saw the gold medallist improve on her qualification round by close to 2 metres while the silver medallist was not far behind with an almost 3 metres improvement.
And the winner of the event -- a world champion -- Yaime Perez (Cuba) will be looking to do much better than her qualification effort of 63.18 and hurl it closer to her season-best effort of 68.99 (in May 2021) in order to have a shot at the gold medal. The only area of concern for her has been the recent form as in the eight competitions she took part in last three months, the 30-year-old athlete has only managed to throw beyond 67 just once and beyond 65 just twice in the remaining competitions.
There is no respite yet for Kamalpreet as her next obstacle will be two-time Olympic defending champion Sandra Perkovic (Croatia), who topped Group A -- third overall -- with a 63.75 throw. Perkovic, whose season-best stands at 68.31 and is capable of throwing as far as 71.41m (in 2017), will be aiming to defend her Olympic medal for the third time and the five-time European champion's recent form suggests she won't go down without a fight. Since June, the 31-year-old athlete has consistently thrown over 66m-mark, including her season-best, and will aim to peak at the final.
This leaves us with Kamalpreet's Jamaican competitor Shadae's Lawrance, who entered the last and decisive round with a 62.27m throw. However, like other Kamalpreet's remaining rivals, her recent form suggests that since throwing her season-best of 67.05 in May, there has been a sharp dip in her performances and has never really gone beyond the 63m mark since June.
There is some rebate for Kamalpreet in the final as season's best thrower Jorinde Van Klinken (SB & PB of 70.22m) couldn't withstand the pressure of the Olympics and felt short of qualification with a pale throw of 61.15m.
Kamalpreet's and her rivals' season performances are listed below:
Ranked as per season best (SB)
1. Valarie Allman (USA) (SB 70.01m) (PB 70.15m August 2020) (Q 66.42m)
2. Yaime Perez (CUBA) (SB 68.99 May 2021) (PB 69.39 July 2019) (Q 63.18)
3.Sandra Perkovic (CRO) (SB 68.31 Jun 2021) (PB 71.41 July 2017) (Q 63.75)
4. Shadae Lawrance (JAM) (SB 67.05 May 2021) (PB 67.05 May 2021) (Q 63.75)
5. Kamalpreet Kaur (IND) (SB 66.59 in June 2021) (PB 66.59)
6. Liliana Ca (POR) (SB 66.40 March 2021) (PB 67.05 May 2021) (Q 62.85)
7. Kristin Pudenz (SB 66.31 MAY 2021) (PB 66.31 MAY 2021) (Q 63.73)
8. Chen yang (CHN) (SB 65.14 JUN 2021) (PB 67.05 May 2021) (Q 62.72)
9. Claudine Vita (GER) (SB 64.25 MAY 2021) (PB 66.64 May 2021) (Q 62.46)
10. Marike Steinacker (GER) (SB 64.03 MAY 2021) (PB 64.03 May 2021) (Q 63.22)
11. Daisy Osakue (ITA) (SB 63.66 JUL 2021) (PB 63.66) (Q 63.66)
12. Izabela da Silva (BRA) (SB 62.18 MAY 2021) (PB 62.18) (Q 61.52)
PB: Personal Best Q: Olympic Qualification Round
While the form of her rivals is a good reflection of what are the threats in the final, it's important to take into consideration the hot and humid weather and Tokyo which has made the final a more even battle than expected. As seen in the qualification round, who entered the competition boasting strong personal bests, including Kamalpreet, found it hard to go beyond 64m -- barring Valarie -- and could be a blessing in disguise for the Indian.