When news broke of Dipa Karmakar officially getting the coveted ticket for the Rio Olympics in the early hours of Monday, the 22-year old was more relieved than anything else.
Becoming the first Indian female gymnast to qualify for the quadrennial event is not an achievement to be taken lightly and when coming against all odds, the success tastes that much sweeter.
“She is extremely happy but there is no time for it to sink in yet. She has qualified for the finals of the vault and her event is later this evening so all she has been doing is practice and train for that. She wants a medal at any cost there and if she does as well as she did before, she can even get gold,” her coach Biseswar Nandi told Sportstar from Rio.
It wasn’t an easy road and the Tripura girl owes a lot to her first coach Nandi who continues to guide her. Nandi also admitted to being nervous before her event. “Before the event, I was very much nervous on how she will perform. This was the last chance for her to qualify and it wasn't easy. But Dipa was only half nervous. It was 50-50 and while she was nervous of her result, she was equally confident of her performance,” Nandi said.
That confidence came from history. At the 2014 Asian Games, where she finished fourth, the only ones ahead were Olympic medallists. The first Indian female gymnast to win a medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and follow it up with another bronze at the Asian Championships in Hiroshima, she also reached the final round of the 2015 World Championships and finished fifth.
Dipa's first vault, the extremely difficult Produnova — a double frontal vault — gave her 15.066 points, the highest among 14 competitors. But a poor show in the uneven bars (11.700) took her down before 13.366 and 12.566 points in beam and floor exercises respectively pushed up her all-round total to 52.698 points. That was enough to push her into the top 30 and into the Olympics.
“I learnt the double vault for three months before the 2014 Commonwealth Games; others do it for years before even trying it out in competition,” she said. She continues to be only one of 3-4 gymnasts across the world to attempt it and team it up with another difficult vault, the Tsukahara Double Twist.
There is no time to celebrate
Nandi added that there was hardly any celebration. “We are all very happy but there is no time to celebrate. Once the vault finals are over, then we can think of something,” he said.
Dipa’s achievements are significant given that, for a long time, the Gymnastics Federation of India was unrecognised, affecting practice and funding for the athletes. Even for the Test Event, there had been a break in the national camp for three-four months when Dipa was on her own with Nandi in Agartala.
Former national champion, coach and government observer Ram Niwas, who identified Dipa’s talent and recommended her for SAI training back five years back, credited the achievement solely to her and Nandi. “She has been consistently improving. There have been hardly any exposure tours or national camps so there has been no technical feedback. All credit for this achievement must go only to Nandi and Dipa,” he said.
‘She was determined to win an Olympic berth’
Dipa’s father, Dulal Karmakar, also expressed his delight. “Before leaving for Rio, she had told me that she was determined to win an Olympic berth. She was extremely happy after achieving it. Our whole family is ecstatic. We are waiting for her return and then we will celebrate,” Karmakar said.
However, the doting father said Dipa needed to work towards winning a medal in the Olympics. “I will give her some advice about keeping her focus on getting a medal (in the Rio Games),” he added.
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