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Sports and Culture: How Tripura became the powerhouse of Indian gymnastics

Sports and Culture: How Tripura became the powerhouse of Indian gymnastics
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The Bridge Desk

Published: 7 Nov 2020 6:18 AM GMT

Dipa Karmakar with her coach Bisweswar Nandi gained celebrity status in their state Tripura following Dipa's entry into Olympics as India's first-ever gymnast. Tripura, however, has always been the 'gymnast hub' of the country. It was till the late 80s, that the state dominated the sport in national competitions. For 20 years, 24 gymnasts from Tripura went on to win 60 national championship medals. The steady supply of good gymnasts, however, took a hit during the 90s. But the glory was brought back by Dipa, who won the bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games 2014.

Tripura's tryst with gymnastics began in the 1960s, when Dalip Singh, known as the father of gymnastics, decided to turn things around. Under his watchful tutelage, Tripura gained immense prominence in the sport. Two of his students, Mantu Debnath and Bharat Kishore Deb Burman, won the Arjuna Award in 1975 and the state's first gold medal at the national level respectively.

Dalip SIngh (centre) (Source- Times of India)

Singh pursued a diploma course in coaching from Russian gymanastics coach N I Takaishvili. He was also a member of the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. He came to Tripura in 1964 and began his work at the Vivekananda Byamagar. Interestingly, Vivekananda Byamagar was the place where Dipa also started her journey. When established, over the first 15 years or so, it was a barren center with a few basic equipments; that is before Singh walked in and took it upon himself to change the entire look of that place. He got the workers going and provided the ring and table vault equipments, on which so many future champions would prepare themselves. Even today, long after Singh is gone, Byamagar is a nursery to up and coming talent. It charges a monthly fee of just Rs. 50.

Despite the poor infrastructural problem, Dalip Singh worked his way. He would go door-to-door to ask parents to send their kids to the Byamagar and luring them with government job opportunities if became successful.

Soon, he moved to the regional Coaching Center (RCC). At two empty warehouses, he had set up his equipment. Singh's efforts were recognized well by the SAI, and the body, in the year 1968, brought a Soviet team of gymnastics - who were Olympians - to compete among the locals, including Debnath and Burman. The sole objective was to compete among the best in order to be the best. Then landed a team from Germany in 1970, followed by Chinese team in 1984. In 20 years, Singh had changed the entire landscape of gymnastics in the city, let alone India.

During this period, alongside Debnath and Burman, other gymnasts also emerged to the fore. Dipa's coach Bisweswar Nandi also trained under Singh and was a five-time national champion. Kalpana Debnath was an Arjuna Awardee too, besides being a national champion who won all gold medals at the national gymnastics championship held at Surat in 1978. She also bagged the unique distinction of being adjudged 'All-Round Best Woman Gymnast of India' a record nine times.

Also read: Tokyo Games postponement rekindles gymnast Dipa Karmakar’s Olympic hopes

Debnath had won 36 gold medals in national championships. He won the top honour in 'vaulting horse' at Indo-Soviet cultural exchange meet in 1969 and was named captain of the national gymnastics team. In 1972, he was on the verge of being sent to the Olympics. However, the federation couldn't find a coach for him, and the dream of sending an Indian gymnast to the Olympics remained unattained. As the problem persisted, Singh focussed on nurturing coaches. Every coaching centre, where Singh taught, was granted a national coach. And where he could not, he would either himself take over that role or ask one of the senior members to guide performers. That was his level of determination.

Tripura's first gold medallist in the national championship, Mr. Bharat Kishore Deb Burman. He specialised in floor exercise and vaulting table." And no surprises there. Burman won gold in both these categories in Bombay in 1965.

After Dipa Karmakar's success, many in Tripura has followed her footsteps and are trying their best to make a mark in this sport. Priyanka Dasgupta and a few others strive hard to take Olympian Dipa Karmakar’s gymnastics legacy forward in Tripura. The state is determined to produce more Olympics hopefuls in the coming days. By earning four gold medals in artistic gymnastics, more than any other team at the 2020 Khelo India Youth Games in Guwahati, Dasgupta became the cynosure of eyes.

Also read: Rani Rampal’s Shahabad – The nursery of women’s hockey in India

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