In a country of one billion cricket crazy fans, it is challenging for any other athlete or any sport for that matter, to gain recognition. But then there's a spark. A ray of hope. Through the rocky road, countless challenges and numerous adversities, that one athlete from that one unknown sport makes it big. They enlighten the billion Indians about their sport. Overnight, Dipa captured the heart of the country and more importantly, put gymnastics on the map. But then, this past May, Indian gymnastics got really lucky. Gymnastics, once synonymous with Dipa Karmakar, saw a second, rather unfamiliar name attached to it. Pranati Nayak's name creeped into the news.
Hailing from the small town of Midnapore in West Bengal, Pranati's qualification to the Tokyo Olympics while igniting that sense of excitement once again, also brought back memories of Dipa. As humans, we have this innate need to compare. Especially in sport, to set benchmarks, we thrive on knowing how one athlete is different (or better) than the other. As for gymnastics, it is only natural that people very quickly began to ask, "but what is the difference between Pranati and Dipa?" Well, I will try answering that trying to be as non-diplomatic as I can.
Big names in Indian Gymnastics
Pranati and Dipa have always been big names in Indian gymnastics. They have both been national champions (with Pranati winning the last national championships in 2019, where Dipa didn't compete), have participated in multiple international competitions and have both won at an international competitions.
Notably, both are all around gymnasts but specialise on vault. Their international medals also come from their performances on the vault. Dipa won a bronze of vault at the 2014 Commonwealth Games as well as the 2015 Asian Championships, followed by vault golds at the 2016 Olympic Test Event and the 2018 Turkey World Cup.
Two years her junior, Pranati began her international medal haul with her first vault bronze at the 2019 Asian Championships. Although, they have always been neck and neck on vault scores in domestic competitions and in their quest to win that coveted Olympic vault medal, Dipa has always edged Pranati as a result of her higher difficulty vaults.
What's in a vault?
Up until 2016, Dipa was the daredevil in gymnastics. she competed the high-risk high-reward, Produnova vault. The vault was awarded the highest difficulty in women's gymnastics. It's a vault not often seen in women's gymnastics attributing to its sheer difficulty. But Dipa made it happen. Although she didn't quite manage to nail the landing, she performed it well and somehow managed to make it count every time. The 7.0 difficulty vault was her ticket to the Olympics. It was Dipa's signature move.
However, after the Olympics, all that changed. The Federation of International Gymnastics devalued the vault, therefore not providing the high difficulty reward it was given. The risk was not worth it anymore. Dipa, in the meantime, also suffered a knee injury and her comeback showed her working a new vault.
With the discontinuation of the Produnova, the long time advantage that Dipa had over Pranati also vanished. They were now on the same playing field. Both aimed to compete the Handspring 1.5 twisting vault or the 'Rudi' as its commonly called.
So who won?
Sorry to disappoint, but this is a question still waiting to be answered. As it so happened, Dipa struggled with a series of injuries following her Olympic bid and then after an international World Cup competition in 2019. She skipped the National Championships in 2018 and 2019, where Pranati was present. Pranati and Dipa haven't competed their same vaults in the same competition as yet. Only a head to head battle will really reveal who wins the tight match-up.
A friendly rivalry
Dipa and Pranati are fierce competitors, as any athlete in any sport would be. While neither would want to relinquish their vault medal to the other, they are both good friends. An example of this was a moment Pranati recalled when speaking to the press, when following the announcement of her Olympic qualification, Dipa was the first one to call her and congratulate her on the selection. Like true sportswomen, they hope the best for each other, while flipping the switch come competition.
They have been teammates for a long time, training at multiple Indian camps together and travelling to international competitions together. Both share the common goal of uplifting Indian gymnastics for the future through their talent. They are both absolute pioneers in Indian gymnastics and great inspirations for the younger generations of gymnasts in the country.