Dipa Karmakar, India’s first female gymnast deserves all the accolades and recognition that is coming her way since that magical ‘Produnova’ vault in Rio Olympics 2016, which earned her a 4th position at the finals of the individual vault event in artistic gymnastics.
For a country starved for Olympic medals, Dipa’s phenomenal rise from her little known home in Agartala in the remote state of Tripura, to the centre of global attention, is an inspirational story that will someday definitely make it to the celluloid.
If there is a story in Dipa Karmakar’s achievement, then there is a learning for the nation as well. For too many times we have heard sportspersons at all levels complaining of lack of proper training infrastructure, international class coaching, quality diet and absence of proper training equipment that came in the way of India producing world class sportspersons.
While all these may well be true, ask Dipa, it’s also true that she earned her 4th spot at the Olympic level despite not having access to any of the above mentioned ‘prerequisites’, to achieve what he has at Rio.
So what makes a humble girl from a modest home in Tripura reach the level she has without access to ‘world class’ facilities?
The answer lies in her dedication, motivation, focus, hard work and absolute ambition to achieve what most would believe as not possible. And, she was lucky to have had a coach that shared her belief and ambition.
The story of Dipa Karmakar and her dedicated coach, Bishweshwar Nandi, rings familiar with that of the other gymnast prodigy Nadia Comaneci and her coach Béla Károlyi.
Growing up and fighting against all odds in Communist Romania, young Nadia Comaneci was nurtured in the art of competitive gymnastics by her protective and sometimes overbearing coach, Béla.
Nadia caught the world’s imagination with a stunning perfect score of ‘10’, something that was believed impossible till that day of Olympic finals in Montreal in 1976. She repeated her feat across events and etched her name in record books forever.
Dipa Karmakar may not have reached the peaks attained by Nadia Comaneci but her achievement and significance for a country like India is no less.
Dipa grew up flat footed and that was a physical drawback in a tough sport like gymnastics. Her Coach Bishweshwar Nandi, however, spotted her talent and commitment to the sport and took upon himself the task of training her to be a competitive gymnast. But even he would not have bargained for this young girl with nerves of steel and determination that personifies Hellen Keller, to achieve what no one in this country had dared to even dream of.
Her coach had no international exposure, there were no international class training facilities and there was no quality training equipment available, but there was a burning desire to compete and win, in both coach and his prodigy. And, that is what made Dipa achieve what she did in Rio 2016.
She may have missed out on Bronze medal by a slim margin of 0.15 points, but in her 4th spot, she has demonstrated what can be achieved with limited resources but ample determination. Dipa has shown the way forward and in her achievement, hopefully, she will inspire a billion to come forward to not just dream but to live their dream.
Coaches of Gymnastics in India now find their phones ringing with parents of young children calling in to find out about coaching classes. That’s what Dipa Karmakar has now triggered in the country and hopefully, with government support, Gymnastics will finally get due recognition and investment needed to develop more champions like Dipa.
Gymnastics in India was largely dismissed as circus sport and was never a priority for any parent seeking to introduce their child to sports. When Dipa performed the Produnova or the ‘Death Vault’ during trails to qualify for Rio, she performed to empty stands with little public interest or support. The same nation stayed awake with bated breath to see her perform the deadly Produnova in the finals at Rio. And yes, thanks to Dipa Karmakar, Produnova is now a very familiar name in India.
But what if….
She had miscalculated and ended up with serious injury while trying to attempt the deadly Produnova? After all, the Frenchman Samir Ait Said miscalculated his vault, only to end up with serious multiple fractures just a day before. Should that have happened, Dipa would soon have been forgotten by an unsporting nation, dismissed as a young naïve girl and for being over ambitious in attempting the Produnova.
By the time, Dipa would have returned to India, the nation would have moved on to other breaking news stories. Does anyone remember a child prodigy and Marathon runner called Budhia Singh from Odisha? Where is he today?
But Dipa didn’t let that happen to her and the great news is that her name is likely to be put up for Khel Ratna, India’s most prestigious recognition for contribution to sport. That would certainly be a good beginning on part of the government but more will need to follow by way of infrastructure and investment, if India has to seize the momentum of interest and imagination that Dipa has succeeded in generating.
For Dipa, there are still many miles to go before she sleeps… for she is already setting her sights on the Commonwealth and Asian Games coming up. Rio Olympics is still not over but Dipa has already set her sights on Tokyo 2020. That what ‘burning desire’ is all about and that’s the learning for the nation. Way to go Dipa!