New Delhi: Gymnastics and India... a couple of years ago, these two terms would never have been mentioned in the same sentence. And for good reason. Gymnastics as a sport was more associated with rich countries like Russia, Germany or the US.
But a diminutive girl from Tripura changed it all.
Now, every gymnast around the world takes note of Dipa Karmakar’s mastery in the Produnova vault, which comprises two-and-a-half somersaults before landing. And why not?
If Karmakar manages to land perfectly after performing the world’s most difficult somersault at the Rio Olympics, India could well land an unprecedented medal in a sport that youngsters can only dream about winning in.
Hailed as one of the few female gymnasts in the world to successfully land the Produnova — which has the maximum 7.000 points for difficulty — Karmakar’s decision to perform this feat was as accidental as her decision to choose gymnastics.
Named after the legendary athlete Yelena Produnova, it requires acute concentration, flexibility and control. Because it consists of a front handspring and two front somersaults, it has a 7.0 D-score. Only five gymnasts including Karmakar have so far managed to perform it with perfection.
This, despite all the risks involved with it. The 22-year-old knows well that if she lands on her neck or spine, it might not only end her career but also her life in the worst case scenario.
Such is its difficulty that only Dominican Republic’s Yamilet Pena and Egypt’s Fadwa Mahmoud have attempted the vault in recent times. However, none of them have even come close to what Karmakar has achieved.
The 22-year-old has notched up the highest score of 15.100 (7.000 for difficulty and 8.100 for execution) on Produnova with a 0.1 penalty. Her competitors, meanwhile, have only managed to reach 6.2 to 6.4 at the difficulty level of 7.
Not just Produnova
Karmakar is not just dependent on Produnova to realise her Olympic dream, though. The Agartala girl has been practising another difficult vault, called Tsukahara, with a 720 degree turn. She has been training on the new Vaulting table specially purchased for her by the Sports Authority of India at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in the Capital. This apart from her entitlement of Rs 30 lakh under Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) funding.
Karmakar is high on confidence after receiving the recent honour of Gymnaste de Classe Mondiale (world class gymnast) by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) for her skills. The letter of distinction and a special badge just before the Games would have taken her self-belief a couple of levels higher.
And, she truly deserved it. Karmakar became the first Indian female gymnast to secure a medal when she won a bronze at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and followed it up with another bronze at the Asian Championships in Hiroshima.
Training under the watchful eyes of her childhood coach Bisbeshwar Nandi, Karmakar’s target is to reach 15.67 points, up from her current 15.23.
“I am from a small town. Not many people know much about Tripura. I hope to do something that can make my place known. We have hardly seen sportsperson coming from my region. I want to set an example for other girls too,” Dipa said with a chuckle.
Karmakar may have done extraordinary things in her sport, but there were no signs of that at the start of her career.
“Dipa was six when she came to me at the Vivekananda Vyamagar (in Agartala, Tripura),” Nandi recalled. “There was nothing special in her. I had many more talented girls than her in my club. But one quality set the young girl apart. She was eager to train like matured girls. She was never worried about her high workload.”
However, a doctor’s visit to his academy put Nandi in some serious doubt about whether to carry on with Karmakar or not.
“When I asked the doctor to analyse if Dipa’s body structure was suitable for gymnastics, the response was not positive because Dipa was flat-footed,” said Nandi, explaining how nearly all routine apparatus jumps are difficult to do for flat-footed gymnasts.
Not that it made any difference to Karmakar’s determination. She continued to toil on the makeshift equipment that was available in her home state. The temporary vaulting platform with springs and shock absorbers, constructed with the help of a carpenter, was all that she had to perform indoor exercises. It was only after her commendable show in the 2007 nationals that Karmakar was taken seriously by one and all.
Having defied odds and created history already, one can trust Karmakar to reach a peak that has never even been dreamt of by an Indian.