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Lack of confidence? Why Pranati Nayak was not ready for Tokyo Olympics

Pranati Nayak's performance raised confusion and doubt. What happened with her vaults and why did she not qualify? We find out.

Pranati Nayak at Tokyo Olympics

Pranati Nayak (File Photo/Getty)


Aditi Gandhi

Updated: 26 July 2021 1:25 PM GMT

Pranati Nayak had a rather quiet showing at the Tokyo Olympics on early Sunday morning. Her performance immediately raised confusion and doubt among the gymnastics community. The drama had to do with Pranati not performing the two vaults she would need to, to enter the event finals on the vault event. Her decision to not do two vaults meant that her Olympics campaign ended with the qualification round yesterday.

Confidence issues and injury create concern for Pranati

It seems, based on information we received from our close sources, that Pranati, in order to qualify into vault finals needed to compete her higher difficulty vault. Although she was training for this, due to the lack of preparation time she had, she was not fully confident of completing it. In women's gymnastics, a vault is a power event, requiring immense explosive strength and technical precision in order to perform successfully and avoid injury.

Pranati and her coach believed a lack of confidence in her ability to perform the high difficulty vault successfully would risk injury and her chance to compete on other events. This led them to compete only the one vault she was confident about. Coupled with this, Pranati seems to have endured a mild jerk to her knee when training leading up to the Games which affected her confidence as well as her ability to perform the high difficulty vault.

Pranati was informed about her selection to the Games only late in May this year. A change in the original qualification as a result of COVID, meant that she was awarded one of the continental spots for Asia. However, Pranati, at the time, as a result of the national lockdown was at her home and not in training.

For gymnastics, or any elite sport for that matter, periodization and regular training before a major competition is absolutely key to their ability to perform to the maximum. In Pranati's case, this was hampered as a result of the lockdown and last-minute news.

That said, could she have still performed a second vault albeit one of lower difficulty that she was confident about? In a word, yes, she could have. But she and her coach, Lakhan Sharma, chose not to. Hopefully, we will know more in time.

The importance of two vaults

Dipa Karmakar made gymnastics popular in the country with her vaulting ability back at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She historically qualified into the vault finals and ended up narrowly missing her chance at winning a medal. Pranati, in many ways, is similar to Dipa. She excels on the vault and is essentially a vaulting specialist. Therefore, her best chance at a medal was through qualifying for the vault event final.

Also Read: How different is gymnast Pranati Nayak from Dipa Karmakar?

To qualify into a vault event final in gymnast, the gymnast is required to do two different kinds of vaults. The gymnast must perform both vaults first in the qualification round. The two vaults are scored and they are averaged to produce a final score. The top 8 averaged vault scores from qualifications will advance to event finals. When Pranati and her coach opted not to compete a second vault, she was automatically ineligible to make event finals on vault.

Is COVID-19 to blame?

The pandemic has had a sort of perverse impact on elite athletes training for the Olympics around the world. For those who were injured and running short of time to recover for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 Games, saw the postponement of the Olympics as a blessing in disguise to recover and come back fresh and better prepared for the Games.

For those peaking right before the pandemic hit, in some ways burned out or faced injuries that could not hold up for yet another year full of adversity. A one-in-a-million-year pandemic stole the chance at Olympic glory for some, but offered a new beginning to many more. At the end of the day, this is the reality of sports. The highs are incredibly high and lows are heart-breaking. But alas, you live, you hurt, you recover and come back stronger.

In Pranati's case, once can argue from either angle. If the pandemic didn't hit, she probably would not have been offered the continental spot for a chance to compete at the Games. However, at the time she was peaking enough to compete in the higher difficulty vault, but may not have had the chance to compete at the Games regardless.

Alas, it is safe to say, in sport, one can never know what may have been. Only what is. And that is, at the end of the day one vault or two, Pranati Nayak can proudly call herself an Olympian and inspiration to yet another generation of gymnasts, to believe and to persevere. Little girls from small towns can dream and make it big. We can only hope that this experience for Pranati, probably not what she hoped, only ignited a fire in her and a will to come back stronger.

Also Read: Pranati Nayak's long-time coach disappointed over the gymnast's Olympics performance

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