Dipa: Bringing Indian gymnastics out of a dark corner

The 22-year-old grew up training in rudimentary gymnasiums in Agartala, in the remote Tripura state. But sheer determination, hard work and solid training from Coach Bisweshwar Nandi, whom Dipa describes as ‘Dronacharya,’ made her achieve one triumph after another.

Dipa with her proud parents.   -  PTI

Sportsmen of some calibre always dream about winning a medal in the Olympics. The latest in this line is gymnastics sensation Dipa Karmakar, the first Indian woman to qualify for the Rio Olympics in the sport. “Yes I want to make it in Rio and am completely focussed on my aim,” Dipa sounds optimistic.

The 22-year-old grew up training in rudimentary gymnasiums in Agartala, in the remote Tripura state. But sheer determination, hard work and solid training from Coach Bisweshwar Nandi, whom Dipa describes as ‘Dronacharya,’ made her achieve one triumph after another.

Not many know that Dipa was introduced to gymnastics by a lady coach, Soma Nandi, in a small practice hall of Vivekananda Beyamagar — a trust-managed multi-sports complex. Dipa was just 6 when her father, the weightlifting coach Dulal Karmakar, took her to Soma.

When asked, why gymnastics, Karmakar replies, “Her body shape was made for this sport. I knew she would climb to the top.”

 

Seeing Dipa’s skill and her willingness to train rigorously, Soma requested her husband, the popular gymnastics coach Bisweshwar Nandi, to take up her coaching. And from then, when Dipa was just 6, till now, their combination is going strong. And Dipa asserts, “He left behind everything to make me what I am today. I can’t repay his debt, never in my life.”

Dipa’s entry into gymnastics coincided with her joining the Nazrul Smriti Vidyalaya — a public school not far from her home.

“The headmistress and teachers extended help in the best possible way. She was allowed to skip classes and even considered for promotion if her exams coincided with a tournament elsewhere,” Dipa’s grateful parents Dulal and Gauri Karmakar recall.

Dipa’s parents never forced her to focus on studies for the ultimate benefit of a government job, something most of the families strive for in Tripura. Dipa too admits that without encouragement from her parents she could not have achieved anything. She adds, “Every good thing starts from home.”

Dipa won her first gold medal, when she was just nine years old, after competing with seniors at the Northeast India Games in 2002. And at the National junior championship she secured her first champion title when just 14 years of age in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal.

However, not everything was fine. After winning medals in events meant for children Dipa opted for admission in the Agartala centre of the Sports Authority of India (SAI). But she was denied admission owing to her flat feet. Not discouraged by this development, the little girl and her doughty coach soldiered on relentlessly and the rest is history.

A visit to Dipa’s home in the Abhaynagar locality of Agartala would show us the fruits of her labour. For, a room has been entirely devoted for the countless medals, trophies and certificates that Dipa has won in the last 16 years.

Dipa says that though medals indeed have had a great importance in her life, words of appreciation and encouragement from legendary gymnasts have also boosted her. In Glasgow, at the World Championships, the US superstar gymnast Simone Arianne Biles (three-time World all-around champion ) walked up to Dipa to praise her excellent skill in the Produnova style of vaulting.

World famed gymnast Nelli Vladimirovna of the erstwhile Soviet Union, who has won five Olympic gold medals and a silver, too praised Dipa. “Their words encouraged me a lot”, says Dipa, a 2015 Arjuna Awardee.

In Rio de Janeiro, she scored 52.698 points to bag the ticket to the 2016 Olympics. Dipa is also delighted to receive words of appreciation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, senior government leaders, sports personalities and cine stars. She says that she has to justify the faith that they have in her.

Dipa is confident of facing the challenging task, but humbly admits that it would not be easy as she would have to contest against highly-skilled gymnasts from Russia, Romania, China and USA.

Officials of the SAI and the Sports Ministry are in touch with Dipa and her coach to plan a comprehensive training schedule. The Ministry has allocated Rs. 30 lakh for her Olympic preparations.

A SAI official said that they were planning to send Dipa and her coach abroad for advanced training in Produnova, considered as the riskiest of vaults in gymnastics. Dipa is also in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme or TOPS of the Sports Ministry.

Dipa says that she has to improve some 25 percent more and train hard till the Olympics. “I am aware of the expectations of all Indians from me at Rio. I also want to fulfil my dream and I have to do it,” Dipa, concludes confidently.