Indian gymnast Dipa Karmakar vaults into history
Nilesh Bhattacharya | TNN | Apr 19, 2016, 09.12 AM IST
KOLKATA: Dipa Karmakar took up gymnastics at the age of six on the insistence of her father Dulal, who was a weightlifting coach in Agartala, Tripura. She was scared of falling down and hurting herself but her father convinced her to persevere in the sport.
That decision turned out to be a life-changer for Dipa. On Sunday, the 22-year-old became the first Indian woman gymnast to secure an Olympic Games berth in artistic gymnastics at a qualifying event in Rio de Janeiro. A few hours later, she won the gold medal in the vaults final, the first time an Indian woman has clinched a gold in a global gymnastics event. Dipa is also the first Indian gymnast to qualify for the world's biggest sporting extravaganza after 52 years. Six Indian male gymnasts had last taken part in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. There was no qualification system in place at that time.
This is the story of how a little girl in tiny Agartala overcame her fear of falling down and hurting herself. Today, Dipa is busy planning how to make her leap more daring in the vault stage of the Rio Olympics artistic gymnastics, a move that could win her - and India - an improbable medal.
"She has sacrificed a lot in the past three years. Her dedication and hard work has yielded dividends," said Dipa's father Dulal.
Dipa's journey from Agartala to Rio is a truly fascinating one, although her string of recent successes in international competitions did point to something bigger. Like other 10-year-olds, Dipa interest in sports was limited to a few outdoor games in her locality in Abhoynagar, on the outskirts of Agartala. It was on the gentle goading of her father - a SAI weightlifting coach - that Dipa took up gymnastics.
Having become the first Indian woman to win a Commonwealth Games medal (bronze) in Glasgow two years ago (2014), Dipa also made it to the finals of World Artistic Gymnastics Championships held at the same venue. However, she narrowly missed out on an Olympic berth by finishing fifth when a podium finish would have sealed a Rio berth.
"She was disappointed after failing to seal Rio berth in the Glasgow Worlds last year. But she was determined to clinch it this time around," her mother Gauri said.
Although Dipa owes much to her SAI coach Bishweshwar Nandi for her success, she never lost focus and determination in the face of adversity.
An Arjuna Awardee, Dipa might have bagged five gold medals for Tripura each in the past two National Games, in Ranchi in 2011 and Thiruvananthapuram in 2015, but she had returned empty-handed from the Guwahati Games in 2007. She was so disappointed with her performance that she left for Agartala straightway without even meeting her father, who was also in Guwahati as a SAI coach then.
Even in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, with the qualification spot at stake, Dipa came up with 'Produnova' - a skill most gymnasts shy away from. It's a handspring double front vault but the manoeuvre requires perfect balance and great focus. One false step can lead to a bad fall and a career-threatening injury.
That Dipa became only the third gymnast to come up with a 'Produnova' during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow only highlights the degree of skill and perfection that is required to pull off the feat.
Tripura gymnast Dipa named for Arjuna award
In Rio, Dipa's attempt at the 'Produnova' was not flawless, but it still yielded her the highest points among the 14 competitors.
Employed as a physical inspector at the directorate of youth affairs in Agartala, Dipa may stand just 5 feet tall, but the growing list of her achievements has forced one and all to sit up and take notice. Come August, Dipa, a final-year degree student at Women's College in Agartala, will return to Rio with renewed hope and promise in a bid to realize her dream of winning an Olympic medal.