"Fourth, again" - gymnast Pranati Nayak misses out on World Cup medal by a whisker
From Dipa Karmakar at the Rio Games to Pranati Nayak at the FIG World Cup, Indian gymnasts continue to be haunted by fourth-place finishes. Nayak opens up about the pain of 'almost' winning a medal.
Perhaps nothing does hurt more than almost achieving something. The regret of near-misses is a burden that weighs all too much and especially for athletes, medals slipping out from their fingers by a fractional margin is a haunting thought but it is one that Indian gymnasts are having to confront consistently now.
"This is the third time that I stood fourth in an event of this stature and it hurts every time to miss out on a medal even after giving my best," Tokyo-returned artistic gymnast Pranati Nayak tells The Bridge after her fourth-place finish at the ongoing FIG Artistic Gymnastics Apparatus World Cup at Baku, Azerbaijan.
Returning to international competition after her bleak outing at the Tokyo Olympics last year, Pranati Nayak wasn't even aware till the final few days preceding the meet that she would be going to the World Cup and naturally her preparation too, took a hit. Busy competing at the Indian Railways Meet at Agra where she won 4 golds, and 1 bronze, Pranati barely had time to practice for the Baku event.
"I found out that I was going to go for the World Cup just 3 days before the event was set to start. I barely got any time to practice," the girl from West Bengal mentioned, a little sad about having missed out on a medal but quite content with how surprisingly well her run was in the vault event.
"I actually stood joint third here. My score is the same as Slovenia's Teja Belak who bagged the bronze. My execution was better than her too overall but since she chose to perform a vault with more difficulty level, she got the advantage," Nayak reasoned, having finished with scores of 13.000 and 12.866 from her two vaults.
So, doesn't that hurt more - having the same score, executing better and yet not being the one with the medal in the hand?
"Not really," Nayak says, "the other girl performed a more difficult vault than me in the first go and naturally, her score shot up because of that. She deserved it," the 26-year-old resolved.
Sports isn't a kind place when it comes to matters of the podium as no matter how much hard work or the amount of blood and sweat spent - it all comes down to some threadbare differences that see one athlete on the dais with the medal and the other without one.
The spectre of fourth-place finishes by Indian gymnasts
Indian gymnasts have been haunted by fourth-place finishes for an alarmingly recurring span. Dipa Karmakar's near-miss at the 2016 Rio Olympics broke an entire nation's heart as somewhere the ink from the pen etching the history spilled but didn't quite succeed in completing the sentence, leaving mere blotches as stark reminders of regret.
For Pranati as well, this isn't the first time she has had a brush with a near-miss medal where she was agonisingly near to clinching the metal and ending up on the podium, but rather the third time after a junior outing at Russia in 2008, and then another time in Bangkok in 2017 during the Senior Asian Championships and the Baku experience was a third.
However, Pranati, though disheartened, doesn't lose heart and remains eager for the upcoming tournaments.
"Personally, I'm happy with my performance here as I wasn't even expecting to compete at the World Cup. The tournament only showed how I am placed currently and how much I need to improve with the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games ahead," Pranati says.
"From our outings so far, I've understood that I need to focus on table vault more which is what I plan to work on more so that I can medal," the young gymnast put forward.
Hopeful of having a camp in the recent future, Pranati, remains motivated and quite positive with the start of the season and is well aware of the socks she needs to pull up to ensure the ghost of fourth-place finishes doesn't come back to haunt again.