Dipa Karmakar: Vaulting to recognition!

"I am thrilled to have chosen this field. I have tasted success and my coach (Bisweshwar Nandi) deserves a lot of credit for this. Had he not guided me properly, I would not have achieved all this," says gymnast Dipa Karmakar.

Dipa Karmakar celebrates victory in the vault final of the Test Event in Rio and prepares to ascend the podium.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Though she is just 22, Dipa Karmakar has made it a habit of being the first ever in several spheres of Indian gymnastics. The pint-sized athlete with a lot of courage and self-confidence recently did well in the test event in Rio de Janeiro to become the first Indian woman to make it to the Olympics. She already had a few feathers in her cap — the first gymnast to win five gold medals in one edition of the National Games (Ranchi 2011), the first woman gymnast from the country to win medals in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Championship and the first Indian to qualify for the finals of the World Championship.

Dipa, known for her competence in vault, is among the handful of gymnasts to have successfully attempted the difficult Produnova vault. She has achieved the highest score (15.1) in that and stands a good chance in the Rio Olympics.

The Agartala-based athlete knows that by booking a berth in the Olympics, she has not only earned name and fame for herself, but also has brought India some attention in the world of gymnastics. Now eyeing bigger glory, Dipa, constantly guided by her coach Bisweshwar Nandi, wants to make the most of the opportunity.

Amidst her busy schedule in the run-up to the Olympics, the affable gymnast found some time to speak to Sportstar.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: Tell us something about your early days in gymnastics?

Answer: My father is a weightlifting coach with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and he likes gymnastics. So he put me in gymnastics. My first coach was Soma Nandi (present coach Bisweshwar Nandi’s wife). Later, I trained under Nandi sir. Initially, I did not have much interest in gymnastics. After 2008, I got four golds and one silver at the National junior championship because of which I came to the National camp. In the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Ashish Kumar won two bronze medals and that spurred me to do something similar. Me and my coach set targets and worked to achieve those. I got five gold medals in the 2011 National Games. After that I kept improving.

 

Do people in Agartala know about gymnastics? How is the response there?

People do not know much about gymnastics in the whole country. In Agartala people know a little bit about gymnastics because my coach took part in 10 National championships and emerged as the champion in Agra. Now the Olympic ticket has spread awareness about the sport in the city as well as the whole country.

How did you handle the pressure of studies and gymnastics in your early days?

Since I belonged to a sports family, there was absolutely no pressure on me (as far as pursuing sports is concerned). My family members used to tell me, ‘You do whatever you like — be it gymnastics or studies.’

Since you have come thus far, do you miss your childhood friends?

You make new friends as you go ahead in life. I have a lot of gymnast friends. I also keep in touch with other friends whenever I have some spare time. But everybody lives his own life.

Your friends must have chosen different careers. Some might have got married and settled down. Do you feel proud that you have taken an off-beat track and become successful?

I am thrilled to have chosen this field. I have tasted success and my coach deserves a lot of credit for this. Had he not guided me properly, I would not have achieved all this.

Do you idolise any gymnast?

Of course, I idolise some of them such as Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland and Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan. One should idolise those who have done extremely well in one’s field.

What do you tell yourself when you approach a competition or a particular apparatus in the middle of a competition?

My coach always says, ‘You give your best in whatever you know.’ In gymnastics, someone who is a sure shot candidate for a gold medal can miss it altogether. So one cannot think too much about failures. If I am not performing up to the expectation in one apparatus or event, then the best thing is to try and give a good performance in the next one.

>Read: Bringing Indian gymnastics out of a dark corner

In gymnastics, India is a small nation. How do you handle yourself when you go out and take part in big events?

Earlier, people did not know me. Now everybody knows that I am from India. I have made a lot of friends. People encourage me a lot.

How tough are you mentally? And are you short-tempered?

You may ask this to my coach.

Coach answers: She gets angry very easily. I try to channelise that anger positively. I tell her that you should use your anger to complete an exercise well. It is a bit of a difficult task for me, but I manage to do it. Without that anger, it is not easy to have that determination.

You had told your father that you would qualify for the Olympics for sure. What made you say so?

After I missed the qualification narrowly in the World Championship last year, I was determined to do it this time. I had this target in mind and under my coach’s guidance I worked hard to reach my goal.

You are one of the best in the world in vault. How you are going to handle this pressure and perform in the Olympics?

There are several other top gymnasts in the world, especially the Americans and Russians who qualified much earlier and did not come to the Rio qualifier. I can only try to give my best.

What are your other aspirations apart from doing well in the Olympics?

Right now I am fully focussed on doing well in the Olympics.

In which areas of your game do you want to do better?

I want to work on my execution and improve it.

You have got a top score of 15.1 in vault. Can you achieve a higher score?

Yes, I can. I will train hard to do better than that.

(Question to coach: Do you think she can improve upon her vault score? What mark can she achieve?

Yes. Since we have got 100 days for the Olympics, she can try to rectify her mistakes. We will give our best. She can go up to 15.7 or 15.8. If she remains fit, God willing, she can perform better.)

Normally gymnasts’ careers are short-lived. How do you want to chart your career from here?

It is not like that. Some of the gymnasts, such as Oksana who competed in the Rio qualifier, are 40 years old. Oksana is going to take part in her seventh Olympics. If someone is keen to continue, then she can do so.