‘Anything can happen in this event. That’s why we love the risk,’ Dipa Karmakar, Gymnast, 22 years, India
When I was young and would collect posters of Indian and West Indies cricketers, there were a few other sporting icons that had their place on our walls; Nadia Comaneci was one of them. In the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Nadia became the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event. I doubt Dipa Karmakar’s poster will be an Indian teenager’s wallpaper today. But Dipa is already India’s poster girl and not because she is the only Indian gymnast ever to qualify for the Olympics. Her story inspires awe.
India’s obsession with cricket went past just sport and became an enterprise legally as well as illegally. Most other sports suffered and remained neglected. Over the years, I have often marveled at how gymnasts perform on the edge with fine balance and incredible poise. Dipa’s story has generated adequate interest amongst many of us. She is known as one of the world’s best vault specialist but it is her dogged determination despite the odds that makes her a winner. The odds are astounding. Not just on the vault but in her life as well. But Dipa, as her weightlifter coach father recalls, just wouldn’t give up. All the decimal crunching of reaching to the top, hours and hours of endurance tests can come to a naught with the slightest mistake, with a micro fraction of loss of concentration. The only thing that keeps you going is passion. Her life is a tale of passion.It really doesn’t matter if Dipa gets a medal at Rio. Her podium is a leap of faith.
Dipa Karmakar comes from a country that is virtually unknown in gymnastics. She comes from the state of Tripura where sporting facilities would be hard to come by. But she has a coach Bisweshwar Nandi who took the audacious decision to augment her difficulty level to the highest against competitors who have practiced for years with the latest equipment. In risk taking, Dipa Karmakar had gone for broke. Her first vault was the Produnova , known to be one of the most dangerous jumps where the ‘jump is followed by blocking the hands, swinging the legs into full rotation while in flight for twin somersaults and then a frontal landing with complete balance. If it goes wrong, it can break the spine and the neck’. Since then she has landed at every big stage she has vaulted at — the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Championship, World Championships and now at the Rio qualifiers. She is the new Indian sports star.
Before the World Championships, to go along with the Produnova, coach Nandi as usual took another risky call. She would do the Tsukahara 720 degree turn — stretched with a double twist, the second most difficult (6.000) from the Tsukahara family of spinning aerial routines. For medalists who have spent three years to get this right, Dipa did it in three months, after she went 8 months without practice. It was possible after her coach and father pleaded with Union Sports Minister (now Assam Chief Ministerial aspirant), Sarbananda Sonowal to let her practice in Delhi. The sport doesn’t even have a federation in this country and that is just one of the logistical nightmares that she must battle continuously.
In a country where sportspersons (remember cricket is not just a sport) are rarely acknowledged and rewarded, tweets on Dipa by sporting celebrities and some politicians have come as a pleasant surprise. Hope this support for her continues.
Kishalay Bhattacharjee is a senior journalist and author based in Delhi. His most recent book is Blood On My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters