Bishweshwar Nandi: ‘Tokyo 2020 a big challenge'

No one knows what will happen in the next four years. I wish both Dipa and I stay fit and fine. Keeping in mind our target for the next Olympics, I wish she stays injury-free," says Dipa Karmakar’s coach Bishweshwar Nandi.

Bishweshwar Nandi wants to guide Dipa to an Olympic medal in Tokyo 2020   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

The man who guided Dipa Karmakar to an unprecedented fourth-place finish in the Rio Olympics is now the most sought-after gymnastics coach in the country.

While the whole nation is thanking him for Dipa’s performance in Rio, Bishweshwar Nandi does not forget to acknowledge the contributions of Dipa’s first coach and his wife Soma Nandi.

READ: >Dipa's life after Rio

Bishweshwar, who quit the Border Security Force (BSF), to become a gymnastics coach in Tripura’s sports department, and Soma, who works with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) as a coach, have been grooming young talent. They have lined up a few teenaged girls who have the potential to make it big after Dipa.

Bishweshwar spoke to Sportstar on Dipa’s performance in Rio and the plans he has for her, and on working with Soma among other things.

Excerpts:

Question: How did you start your journey in gymnastics? Tell us about your background.

Answer: I started at a nearby school ground in 1970. There was no facility at that time. Bikram Kishore Deb Barma, who was trained by our guru Dalip Singh, spotted me. I started gymnastics on a grassy ground under the watchful eyes of R. R. Roy. After three-four months, I was taken to the Netaji Subhash Regional Coaching Centre (NSRCC) under the direct guidance of Dalip Singh, who used to send coaches to different schools to spot talented kids.

Your wife Soma Nandi is also a gymnastics coach. She was Dipa Karmakar’s first coach before you took charge of her. Is it beneficial that you both belong to the same profession?

It helps a lot. She teaches the basics and sends the kids to me so that I can give them advanced training. It is a nice process. We work in tandem, complement each other and there is an understanding between us. As the Tripura Chief Minister (Manik Sarkar) pointed out during Dipa’s felicitation function, if Soma Nandi would not have taught Dipa the early lessons in gymnastics then Bishweshwar Nandi would not have taken her forward. There has to be a beginning somewhere.

Do you think Dipa’s success is because of Agartala’s gymnastics culture?

The gymnastics culture of Agartala is very important. We tell our students how it started and developed. There are so many internationals and Arjuna Award winners, who have emerged from here. These stories inspire the students and help them get better. They become eager to do better than their predecessors.

 

Three decades have passed since Dalip Singh died. Still many of his students, including you, are in touch with his wife Dr. Salama Sushila Devi. Tell us about the coach-student bonding.

We invite Mrs. Singh on important occasions. We want to take this (relationship) forward. I have participated in 10 international events. Now my ‘daughter’ (Dipa) is bringing medals from the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Championship. She has made it to the Olympics and done well there. These are no small achievements. When she becomes a coach, she can aspire for her students to become even better and win medals in the Olympics. I was a three-time National champion, and Dipa is a seven-time National champion. She will want her students to become even better. The tradition has to be carried forward.

What are the challenges that coaches face in gymnastics?

Gymnastics is a sport that demands the coaches to be extremely fit to help the students. It is a kind of physical torture. When you quit gymnastics, you don’t feel like pushing yourself to do the exercises. You have to be fit to give support to the athlete; suppose an athlete falls down and I go to save him, then I may have to bear the impact or the after-effect of the accident. No coach wants his student to be injured. This is the difference between coaching in gymnastics and coaching in other sports. The relationship between a coach and a student is so close that it is like a father-child relationship. When a gymnast suffers concussion and we approach to save him, he may try to catch hold of us involuntarily and we may get injured. Gymnastics is a risky sport and involves a lot of difficulties. That’s why some coaches get success early and some get success late in their careers.

Apart from being a coach, how do you describe your relationship with Dipa?

I am everything for her. I am her psychologist, coach, trainer, father and friend. Psychology works 80 per cent for a gymnast. Sometimes during training, I behave like her. Sometimes I make her angry, sometimes I pacify her.

Before the Olympics, I took gymnasts Asmita Pal and Aruna Reddy with me so that Dipa can express herself well being among the girls and speak in her own language (with Asmita). We had a psychologist, a masseur, a physio, a doctor, and a video analyst worked with her apart from me. It was a team effort.

It is not a sport where you just keep running. It is important to know how much you run, what should be your steps, what should be your pace etc. Every move has a technique. One has to be mentally strong to become a successful gymnast.

What was the response of coaches from top gymnastics countries after they saw Dipa’s performance in Rio?

Coaches of other countries wondered how she came up when Indian gymnastics is not so good. ‘How you taught her so much of difficulty,’ they asked. I said she did it in three months. We did Produnova vault earlier, but in those three months, we did hard training. Those coaches said they have selected teams for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and will train them for four years. I told them that things don’t work like that in India. Hopefully after Dipa’s success, things will improve so that we can field three boys and three girls in the next Olympics.

 

How has your outlook changed after the Rio Olympics?

It has changed a lot. Participating in the Olympics is a big achievement. Reaching the final and getting fourth place is even bigger. We have to think about the country now. Since the sport has become so popular because of Dipa, we should capitalise on it and make it bigger. When more students come in, the competitiveness increases. As a result, the overall quality improves.

How challenging is it to maintain focus in the next four years so that Dipa does not become another legend without an Olympic medal?

It is a big challenge. No one knows what will happen in the next four years. I wish both Dipa and I stay fit and fine. Keeping in mind our target for the next Olympics, I wish she stays injury-free. Anything can happen in life. However, we cannot adopt a negative approach. Our aim should be clear and our goal definite. Then only we can succeed. We want to do something significant in the Olympics. But that alone is not enough. The help of the media, the sponsors, the Government — it is helping and we expect more from it — is also necessary.

Can Dipa’s efforts be made bigger so that more gymnasts come from different parts of the country?

The Government of India has conferred the Dronacharya Award on me. This increases my responsibilities. Now I have to think how we can improve the standard of Indian gymnastics. We have to work hard for this.