Spurred by ill father, Tajinderpal Singh Toor makes his golden mark

For the majority of the shot put contest on Friday, the challenge for Tajinderpal Toor wasn't to keep himself ahead of the pack. It was simply to help him realise his actual potential. And for that, he is being reminded of the sacrifices made simply to step up to the throwing circle in the first place. "Yaad rakh (remember)," a voice will shout into his ear. And Tajinder does, as he remembers why he competes.

Within the first throw of the contest, the 23-year old had all but sealed the final. Following his opening throw of 19.96, Tajinder would flash a big thumbs up to some of his Asian Games compatriots who were sitting in the stands behind him. "Gold toh pakki (gold is sure)," Tajinder's roommate and triple jumper, Arpinder Singh, who was live streaming the competition on Facebook immediately noted.

It is not his technique that he must remember - that Tajinder has down. Before each of his six throws, he shadow trains for the same, pirouetting his massive six foot, 130 kg frame with surprising grace before launching a towel heavenwards. He handles the 7.6 kilo ball of iron with as much grace. It holds no fears for him. At one point, he twirls it over his right hand like a leg spinner pre-delivery. He's finding the going easy but that itself, the people in the stands to his left, know could cause him to lose his focus.

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"Soch kis liye khel raha hai (think why you are playing). Focus now, " discus thrower Seema Antil shouts at him.

More of the same comes comes from his coach Mohinder Singh Dhillon. "Remember why you are playing. Exert all your efforts. Even if you break, get the throw out," Dhillon hollers.

The big throws follow. In his penultimate effort of the competition, Tajinder propels the iron ball to a mammoth 20.75m. It's the furthest-ever distance recorded by an Indian and the most by any athlete at the Asian Games. This is an athlete at the peak of his physical powers.

It was not always this way. Not even a few months ago, when Tajinder was preparing for the Asian Games. His coach felt that Tajinder, for all his talent, was throwing it away.

For the 23-year-old giant, it seemed he was being asked to make an impossible choice. On the one hand, he wanted to accomplish his goals at the Commonwealth Games. For that, he would have to train every day and push himself. But he also wanted to be at home, in the village of Khos Pando, a speck on the map west of Ludhiana. To be there by the side of his father, Karam Singh, who is suffering from throat cancer.

"He was in a bad condition when Tajinder was going to the Commonwealth Games and he was in bad shape when he returned." Dhillon says. "Whenever Tajinder was in practice in Patiala he would always be leaving for a day here or a day there when he wanted to go home to his village."

Dhillon, who has been working with Tajinder for the last five years, understood the hard choice he was placing before his ward.

"He had been unable to train (at his best) because he had been traveling to visit this father. I told him I know that your father is the most important person for you but there are times you have to chose. He had the opportunity to do something great but he had to make that his priority," Dhillon says.

When Tajinder wavered, it was his father who himself urged him on. Dhillon says, "I was apologising to his father because of what I was asking his son to do but he just waved his hands as if to say to get on with it."

Just to ensure there were few distractions, Dhillon even had Tajinder's pre-Asian training camp shifted from Patiala in Punjab to the high altitude center in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. "I wanted Tajinder to realise that he couldn't travel home and back even if he wanted."

The end of the impasse allowed Tajinder to concentrate on his sport and Dhillon knew that once he focussed, he would excel. Scouted by Dhillon, 65, at a University-level meet back in 2013, Tajinder was an average thrower, but to the old coach, there was enough about the 18-year old that impressed him. "He has incredible explosive strength that makes him a natural athlete and he's also very respectful and obedient," Dhillon says, "Even today if I shout at him, he will look downcast."

Dhillon can recognise ability when he sees it, having coached five Asian medallists over the years. With Tajinder's focus entirely on his game now, the final piece of this puzzle appears to have fallen in place. On Saturday night in Jakarta, Tajinder hears his coach's voice floating in from the empty stands once again.

"Tune karna hai (You have to do it). You should be with your father, but because you aren't, you have to make it count. This time won't come again," Dhillon reminds him.

The moment was seized with a 20.75m heave and following his victory, Tajinder wants to set his sights even higher. While he would certainly have qualified for the last Olympics final with a similar throw - the automatic cut-offs for the finals in 2016 were in the 20.65m range - Tajinder wants to think bigger.

"My goal here was to cross 21m. I fell just short of that. But I will have to touch 22m if I want to compete at the Olympics," he says.

That, though, can wait a while. Tajinder's immediate need is to speak to his family and let them know the sacrifices they have all made have worked.

The first thing he does is to call his mother. He asks her to explain to his father that he has won.

"I can't speak to my father. Because of the cancer in his throat, he can't speak to me over the phone. But I know he is proud of me."