Finding the next Dipa Karmakar: Kym Dowdell explains how India can capitalise on the Olympian’s success

To ensure the sport grows in the country, Dowdell has partnered with Leap Gymnastics to develop a holistic competitive framework.

Published : Apr 26, 2024 17:55 IST , Mumbai - 4 MINS READ

Kym Dowell (extreme right) with the young gymnasts at Leap Gymnastics in Mumbai on Friday. She is joined by Ria Vardhan, former tennis player and now the CEO of Leap.
Kym Dowell (extreme right) with the young gymnasts at Leap Gymnastics in Mumbai on Friday. She is joined by Ria Vardhan, former tennis player and now the CEO of Leap. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Kym Dowell (extreme right) with the young gymnasts at Leap Gymnastics in Mumbai on Friday. She is joined by Ria Vardhan, former tennis player and now the CEO of Leap. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Eight summers ago, Dipa Karmakar missed out on an Olympic medal by a whisker and finished fourth. Her exploits in Rio de Janeiro, however, gave Indian gymnastics a much-needed push.

While the nation took interest in the sport, the hopes were high from Karmakar and other gymnasts to better their performances going forward. But over the last few years, things did not go the way they wanted.

Plaguing injury, followed by a suspension not only dashed Karmakar’s hopes, the likes of Pranati Nayak, too, failed to live up to the expectations. With another Olympics nearing, none of the gymnasts have earned a ticket to Paris yet, and the Asian Championship in May, is the last opportunity for Karmakar and Nayak to seal their berths.

While it’s a challenging task, Kym Dowdell, former vice-president and member of the International Gymnastics Federation Technical Committee, believes that India failed to capitalise on Karmakar’s success in 2016 as it did not have a base underneath her.

“They only had Dipa. She was a talented athlete on one apparatus and she did exceptionally well, but they didn’t have the next Dipas underneath. They only had one,” Dowdell told Sportstar on Friday. “That’s why it’s so critical to develop the base and then bring the base through. It is important to be patient…”

To ensure the sport grows in the country, Leap Gymnastics has partnered with Dowdell to develop a holistic competitive framework, which has been developed through a deep examination of fundamental, compulsory, optional and high-performance programmes in countries that are successfully growing the sport of gymnastics, both in participation and performance.

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However, Dowdell admits that patience is the key.

“Like any sport in any country, those icons or those special people who achieve very highly, of course helps. But to actually get them takes a process. So India, I think, addresses that one with what elite gymnastics is doing and what the states are attempting to do. But it also takes time,” she said.

In fact, the new competitive framework will be put into use when Leap and Maharashtra Amateur Gymnastics Association hosts the Gymnastics Championship on May 11 and 12.

“I know some of the states have identified some talented junior athletes, and they are working in some cases with some international coaches. Let’s hope we see the results of some of that in the next four to six years. But to produce an athlete, it takes six years minimum to produce a really good WAG (Woman Artistic Gymnast) and about eight years for a MAG (Male Artistic Gymnast),” she said.

“I think we may see a little bit of success moving into 2028. But I think if India is really thinking of long term development, their focus should be on what needs to be done to ensure success in the 2032 Olympics…” Dowdell added.

While Dowdell and her team have started the process, it’s a long road ahead. “Systems are absolutely critical and the most successful gymnastic programmes in the world are very systematic in all aspects, whether it’s the developmental training programme, the performance training programme, the development of their coaches and judges, everything has a very sound system behind it. At present, India doesn’t have those sound systems in any of those areas, so they’re relying on the very unique one individual gymnast (Karmakar), who is a wonderful vaulter and did a great job in 2016,” she said.

“You need to develop a broader-based system so that you’re bringing more than one gymnast through and bringing gymnasts through more than just one apparatus. So she was an excellent vaulter, but we need gymnastics for women in four-apparatus and for men in six-apparatus. So, we need to bring more through all apparatus…”

When the Paris Olympics gets underway, Dowdell will be part of the international technical jury for the tenth time, and she is looking forward to watching Simone Biles, Rebeca Andrade and Algeria’s Kaylia Nemour dominate the show. “We all know Simone Biles. She’s world-renowned. She will do an excellent job, but I think the gymnast pushing her underneath is Rebecca from Brazil. She’s really pushing Simone on some apparatus and we have a bar specialist. She is unique and she’s from Algeria (Nemour), so I’d be watching out to see if Algeria takes their first Olympic medal,” Dowdell said.

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