Dipa a product of Agartala's deep-rooted gymnastics culture

For those who are conversant with the journey of gymnastics in Agartala over the last five decades, Dipa Karmakar's success is the outcome of a system put in place by a dedicated Dalip Singh way back in the mid-1960s.


Despite a fourth-place finish in Rio, Dipa Karmakar won a lot of hearts in India.   -  Reuters

Her feat in Rio has earned gymnast Dipa Karmakar the sobriquet of 'Golden Girl' in her home town.

For many, the rise of Dipa, who has joined the league of extraordinary Indian athletes – including 'Flying Sikh' Milkha Singh, 'Sprint Queen' P. T. Usha, Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and shooter Joydeep Karmakar – in experiencing the agony of missing an Olympic medal by a whisker, may be a freak story.

However, for those who are conversant with the journey of gymnastics here over the last five decades, the 23-year-old's success is the outcome of a system put in place by a dedicated Dalip Singh way back in the mid-1960s.

“It was Dalip Singh, an ex-Armyman from Haryana, who started the gymnastics culture here. He was among the first batch of coaches produced by NIS Patiala. He was trained by Russian trainers and knew how to go about it,” said multiple national champion and Tripura's first Arjuna award winner Mantu Debnath, who also served as a coach.

“Dalip Singh began his work at the Vivekananda Byayamgar, which had bare minimum equipment for gymnastics. His first prominent student was Bharat Kishore Deb Barma, who became the national junior champion after receiving only six months of training. It had a huge impact then on youngsters like me and inspired us to take up the sport,” said Debnath, who is in his mid-sixties.

Dalip Singh prepared several national champions and made Tripura a gymnastics force in the national scene. “Dalip Singh had an eye to spot talent and knew how to groom youngsters. He created awareness by inviting gymnasts from the USSR and Germany for exhibition shows. He later moved to the Netaji Subhash regional centre, which initially ran in an empty warehouse, to play a bigger role.”

Dipa's coach Bishweswar Nandi, another multiple national champion, is also a student of Dalip Singh and is keen to spread the knowledge he received from his guru.

“Nandi Sir always feels that he must carry forward the legacy of Dalip Singh. Whatever he has learnt from his guru, he wants to teach those to his students. Nandi Sir believes practice is the key to success and has inculcated this habit in Dipa,” said Soma, Bishweswar Nandi's wife and a gymnastics coach herself.

Incidentally, Dipa started off at the Vivekananda Byayamgar before switching to the regional centre. Both institutions bear Dalip Singh's imprint.

The gymnastics fraternity in Agartala is organising a competition for North East states in the memory of Dalip Singh, who passed away in 1987.

The regional centre is being renovated to be one of the biggest gymnastics hubs in Asia and the state-run Dasarath Deb sports complex and the Sports Authority of India centre are also nurturing young gymnasts. Besides, the autonomous district council has set up a centre to tap potential gymnasts from the tribal community.

Dipa's showing in the Rio Olympics may spur the state to take its deep-rooted gymnastics culture ahead.

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