Commonwealth Games 2022: Gymnast Pranati looks to follow in Dipa Karmakar’s footsteps in Birmingham

Dipa Karmakar became the first Indian woman gymnast to win an international medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Pranati believes it is Dipa who started a ‘kind of movement’ in India to popularise gymnastics. 

Pranati believes it is Dipa who started a ‘kind of movement’ in India to popularise gymnastics.  | Photo Credit: Instagram/Pranati Nayak

Dipa Karmakar became the first Indian woman gymnast to win an international medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Pranati Nayak still struggles with memories of how life unravelled for her at the Tokyo Olympics a year ago.

The only Indian woman gymnast in Tokyo, Pranati skipped one of the two vaults in artistic gymnastics qualifying and failed to reach the final.

What followed crushed the soul of the then 26-year-old. She feels sections of the Indian media dished out speculative stories about her failure, often linking their takes to how star gymnast Dipa Karmakar had dazzled at the 2016 Games in Rio. Pranati’s former coach Minara Begum also did not hide her disappointment over the performance.

Pranati feels the criticism has made her stronger. “Sport has its ups and downs. During tough times, it is easy to pressure people,” she tells Sportstar. “I have been able to make a comeback from that phase. I didn’t lose hope. I thought there are still a lot of competitions ahead. My performance has improved a lot since then. I know my next competition will be good,” she adds, focusing on Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2022.

Since February, Pranati trained in Delhi under Rohit Jaiswal for the CWG. Rohit, however, was dropped from the Birmingham-bound team over accusations of video recording gymnast Aruna Budda Reddy without her consent.

Importance of mental health

The Tokyo experience taught Pranati the importance of having a support system. She believes people need to be more sensitive to discussions around mental health.

“If you do good, the media lifts you to great heights. On the other hand, a lot of stuff is written when we aren’t doing well. We read and listen to these. Many don’t take these to heart, but a lot of us get bogged down by external factors,” she says.

“I became very depressed after I read certain articles about me. My family supported me a lot during this period. My sister, who is married and settled in Uttar Pradesh, came to stay with me for two months. She cooked and I practised.”

Pranati, who is from West Bengal, is grateful to all those who stood by her in the tough times. “Taking care of mental health is very important. There were no sponsors who were willing to come to my aid after Tokyo. But SportsApp helped me a lot when I had no coach.”

Barriers while taking up gymnastics

Tokyo was not the first time Pranati’s gymnastics career hit a roadblock.

As a child, who took up the sport mistaking it to be a form of yoga asana, Pranati first encountered stiff opposition from her neighbours.

“I am from a village called Pingla in Midnapore (district). The people here were very orthodox and not willing to warm up to new ideas,” says the gymnast.

"My family was never against me pursuing the sport, but fellow villagers were dead against it. When I was selected to train at SAI (Sports Authority of India), they were like, ‘Why would a girl want to do this and fracture her hands and toes?’

She smiles when asked if the situation has changed now since she represented India on the biggest global stage. “Yes. Now, they have a different view. When I return home these days, all of them want to meet me and invite my parents to their place.”

In June, Pranati became the only Indian to bag more than one medal in the Asian Championships. She won bronze at the continental meet. This was her second bronze medal at the meet, the first having come at Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in 2019.

Ashish Kumar (2006) and Olympian and Pranati’s idol Dipa Karmakar (2015) are the other Indian gymnasts who have had success in the prestigious meet.

Dipa Karmarkar started a ‘kind of movement’

Pranati believes it is Dipa who started a ‘kind of movement’ in India to popularise gymnastics. Dipa placing fourth in the Rio Olympics was very creditable, she insists.

“Earlier, we used to share one or two boards among 15 to 20 of us. After Dipa didi went to the Olympics, new apparatus came to Delhi. In Kolkata, there are now new boxes on the floor for choreography. The better we perform, the better facilities get for the next generation,” says Pranati.

“I hope our juniors take over in the coming years. We can get much better at what we do if we get more international exposure.”

Everything seems perfect’

Pranati, whose father used to be a bus driver, has endured a lot of hardships in her journey to be an international gymnast. But she has no complaints as she gears up to fight for a medal in Birmingham.

“The workload increased quite a bit in Delhi," she says. "It was painful. I remember, there was a week when I couldn’t sleep throughout the night due to painful cramps in my legs. I used to get up at 2-3 am and massage myself. But when the Asian Championships medal came, I thought if the rewards are such, I am willing to endure everything.”

The Artistic Gymnastics events run from July 29 to August 2 at the Arena Birmingham.

In the women’s category, India is in Subdivision Three, Group 5 alongside Scotland. In the men’s event, India is in Subdivision Two, Group 5 with Singapore.

This will not be Pranati’s first stint in the United Kingdom. She competed in the UK in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and has fond memories. It was here that Dipa became the first Indian woman gymnast to win an international medal in the sport.

Can Pranati follow in Dipa’s footsteps?

“In Tokyo, I did not have enough confidence. Also, gymnasts gained a lot of weight during the lockdown. I did not know what I was supposed to do... control my increasing bodyweight or return to my apparatus,” says Pranati.

“Now, everything seems perfect. My bodyweight is in control. I am a lot better than earlier, both in practice and mentally."

She admits the vault – Tsukahara 720-degree – which she did at the Asian Championships isn’t enough for CWG. "(Rohit) Sir began training me in another element. I am doing that. Let’s see if I am able to execute it during the event.”

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