Gymnast Dipa Karmakar went on to become a household name after the Rio Olympics as much due to her fourth-place finish as her dexterity in pulling off with unparalleled ease the challenging Produnova vault. But it has hardly been smooth sailing for the Tripura girl ever since, with injuries dogging her and even forcing her to pull out of the women’s team final in the Asian Games last year.
But injuries are part and parcel of a gymnast’s career, and with the Tokyo Olympics just round the corner, it is important to stay focused on the road ahead, feels Dipa. Talking to The Bridge, Dipa said, “The only reason I had to pull out of the Asian Games women’s team final was due to my injury during training before the finals. I was disheartened because it wasn’t really something we were expecting. I was happy with my routine in the balance beam competition and it was a little disappointing that we couldn’t win a medal.”
Dipa had a long injury layoff right after the Rio Olympics as she underwent a post anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery. And with her more recent injury problems, speculation has been rife that Dipa may not try the Produnova — or the death vault as some prefer to call it because of the high risk involved in its execution — in Tokyo next year.
The high risk involved, coupled with the fact that the 7 points which were previously awarded for executing the Produnova because of its difficulty level now having been reduced to 6.4, begs the question whether it is worth the gamble anymore.
But contrary to media reports stating that Dipa will not try the Produnova in the Tokyo Olympics, she told The Bridge that a final decision will be taken by her coach Bisheshwar Nandi only after the Doha World Cup.
“Choosing the Produnova vault was Nandi sir’s decision and I fully respected it. This is because we knew that to get to the Olympics, we needed to do something that would fetch us qualifying points. We also hoped that it would lead to a podium finish,” Dipa said.
“We have it in mind that the points awarded for executing the Produnova have been reduced. But maybe I will start training for the Produnova after the Doha World Cup. Whether or not I will perform the vault in the Tokyo Olympics is a decision that will be taken by my coach,” she added.
The challenges of being a gymnast are many in a country like India, not the least of which are lack of basic infrastructure and deficiency of knowledge about the sport. But things have improved a lot, says Dipa, while acknowledging the stellar role of her coach in her development as an athlete.
“We have it in mind that the points awarded for executing the Produnova have been reduced. But maybe I will start training for the Produnova after the Doha World Cup. Whether or not I will perform the vault in the Tokyo Olympics is a decision that will be taken by my coach.”
“I started gymnastics when I was five and a half years old. At that age, I did not have goals or dreams to become a gymnast — I think I was too young to decide that. In 2007, Nandi sir saw the potential in me and that’s when we decided that I should give gymnastics a shot. In 2008, I won my first junior Nationals in Jalpaiguri and the rest is history,” Dipa said.
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“Initially, the lack of proper equipment and facilities was an immense challenge. Gymnastics is a very technical sport and the risk of injuries increases if you don’t practice with the right equipment. However, SAI acknowledged my performance and with their help, I was able to give my best at the Olympics. Now we also have a functioning gymnasium here in Agartala as well where I am currently training,” she added.
She continued, “We have come a long way as a country. People today know gymnastics and there are also gymnastic academies to support and nurture the athletes who want to take the sport up as a career. I feel as a country we are going in the right direction and soon we will have more gymnasts in the elite category.”
The ability to make successful comebacks time and again from long injury layoffs has hardened Dipa’s resolve ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. In July last year, on a comeback trail after an injury, she became the first Indian to win gold at the Gymnastics World Challenge Cup.
The gold at the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup at Mersin in Turkey was sweeter for Dipa as it heralded her comeback. “A first is always special and so was the first gold in Turkey. But it was even more special for me because I was coming back after a long injury layoff,” she said.
“Also the bronze medal at the Cottbus World Cup was special because it was unexpected. My coach and I were elated after the podium finish. That is a special moment of my career which you will not find in my autobiography, The Small Wonder, which focuses on my journey to becoming who I am today,” Dipa added.
She also said that though her immediate focus will be on the twin world cups this year, the tournaments would ultimately help her chart her road to the Olympics. “The plan is to concentrate on the world cups this year and qualify for the Olympics. Competition is tough and we have to really concentrate on our techniques. Whatever I learnt from the previous competitions, I would have to take them forward and move ahead,” she said.
Though the Rio Olympics marked Dipa’s emergence as a global athlete and swept her into the hearts of a billion Indians, the gymnast from Tripura had agonisingly fallen short of a podium finish back then. The big dream now would obviously be to go one step ahead and come away with a medal from the Tokyo Olympics.However, instead of putting herself under too much pressure because of her big Olympic dream, Dipa is focusing on the road ahead, one step at a time. “It will be delightful to have a podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics. But I am not putting myself under too much pressure. I will train and give my 100%. But sports is uncertain and you can never ensure a medal, no matter how big an athlete you are,” Dipa said.
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