Bhubaneswar: The moment the shot put left Tajinderpal Singh Toor’s hands in his third attempt at the interstate meet on Monday, the reigning Asian Games champion knew it was going to be a huge throw. The gentle giant, as he’s popularly known on the circuit, let out a roar as everyone waited for the officials to confirm the exact distance he had hurled the 7.26kg metal ball.
A few seconds later, the field officials confirmed his hunch of a big throw. Toor had managed a 21.77m throw, breaking his previous national and Asian record of 21.49m set two years ago. After the distance came up on the board, he closed his eyes and looked up to the skies, remembering his grandmother who passed away just three days ago.
“When I realised I broke the record, I got a little emotional. My eyes went moist and I was thinking about her for a moment. I want to dedicate this medal to her,” an emotional Toor said after the event.
Toor, who was already the current Asia leader with 21.20m, is the favourite to win gold at the Hangzhou Asian Games to be held later this year. The Punjab athlete has had a tumultuous couple of years, starting from the Tokyo Olympics where he failed to reach the finals after suffering a wrist injury. He had to undergo surgery later, which kept him out of action for a while.
Even on the personal front, Toor has had to overcome a lot of grief. In December, his wife had to undergo an abortion due to complications. “Kaaafi jhatke lage hain. (I have faced many setbacks) but I always pick myself up and continue. I did not want to come to the interstate meet after I lost my grandmother, but then this was an Asian Games trial so I somehow pushed myself to come here. I also strained my groin area just before arriving here, so it wasn’t easy. I just came here believing God will lead the way,” said Toor.
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For someone who hasn’t spoken to or met Toor before, the 150kg, muscular 28-year-old comes off as an intimidating figure. But that’s far from the truth. He is one of the warmest characters on the circuit. “When people see me, they assume I would be a little arrogant but trust me, I am a very calm and kind person. All the aggression is limited to the field,” he said.
While dedicating the gold medal and the new continental record to his late grandmother, Toor recalled the time when she would send him money from Canada for his training requirements. “Until I got a job in 2016 with the Indian Navy, she helped me with my expenses. Shoes, kits, everything. She would send money whenever I needed it,” he said.
Toor’s expenses were much more than the average thrower’s due to his enormous build. His extra-large shoes cost him a fortune. “It was so difficult to get US size 13 shoes for myself. Now I order them from abroad but they don’t last long due to my weight. The soles go flat within a couple of months,” he said.
‘Get out of my class’
Toor has been on the circuit for a long time and has seen several ups and downs, but has never regretted taking up sports as a career. The gentle giant feels he was destined to be a sportsperson, especially after his school teachers gave up on him.
“I don’t think I could have done anything apart from sports. Teacher maar maar ke thak gaye (teachers gave up on me entirely) and almost every day I would hear, ‘Tajinder Toor, please get out of the class’,” he recalled.
Sreeshankar pips Aldrin for gold
With 1-2 world leaders Jeswin Aldrin and Sreeshankar Murali in the line-up for the men’s long jump, expectations were high from the finals. But the spectators, mostly coaches and athletes, at the Kalinga Stadium might have not got the show they were expecting. Apart from Murali, none of the jumpers could breach the 8m mark. Sreeshankar, who recently finished third in the Paris leg of the Diamond League, recorded a best attempt of 8.29m on Monday. The Commonwealth Games silver medallist had already recorded a jump of 8.41m in the qualifying round on Sunday, falling just a cm short of the national record held by Jeswin but comfortably breaching the World Championship qualifying mark of 8.25m.