15th August, 2016. For some people, it marked the 70th anniversary of Indian independence. However, for most Indians, it was the day when a 23 year old girl from Tripura made history.
Not many had heard of Dipa Karmakar before she qualified for the finals of the vault event at the 2016 Olympic Test Event, becoming the first female Indian gymnast to do so. She ended up fourth in the finals, missing the third place by 0.15 points. The two vaults which Dipa attempted were the Produnova vault and the Tsukahara vault. The Produnova vault, also known as the vault of death, is marked the highest in terms of difficulty and has been attempted by only 5 gymnasts worldwide, Dipa included.
Born into a Bengali family in Agartala on August 9, 1993, Dipa began training when she was 6 years old. Initially, she had flat foot, which is undesirable as it hinders gymnasts and affects their performance. However, with extensive training under the guidance of coaches Soma and Bisweshwar Nandi, she was able to develop an arch in her foot. Till now, she has 77 medals to her credit which she won in various state, national and international championships. Dipa became the first Indian female gymnast to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games when she won a bronze in the women’s vault final in the 2014 version of the games. She also won the bronze in women’s vault at the Asian Championships, 2015.
Her climb to success, however, has not been easy. She neither had the proper equipment nor appropriate shoes or costume. The gym where she practiced leaked during monsoons, the mats which she used were tattered and instead of a vaulting table, she used mats piled on each other. She also practiced with equipment made from discarded parts of scooters fixed together with duct tape. Even after she qualified for the Olympics, Indian authorities turned down her request for the presence of her physical therapist at Rio, deeming it wasteful till she qualified for the finals. It was only after she qualified that her therapist was hurriedly flown down to the venue.
Dipa’s hard work and determination, along with a large number of sacrifices have helped her achieve such a great feat. On her ninth birthday, she had refused to cut the cake till she finished practicing. As English medium schools were strict regarding attendance, she had opted for a vernacular medium school to be able to concentrate better on her sport.
Dipa serves as an inspiration to the youth of today. A day after returning to Agartala, her hometown, she appeared for her second semester MA examinations, proving that sports and studies can go hand in hand. After taking Indian gymnastics to new heights, it was no surprise when she was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award on August 29, 2016. Her coach, Bisweshwar Nandi was given the Dronacharya Award, which is conferred upon exemplary coaches.
Though Dipa missed the Olympic bronze by a whisker, she has her eyes set on the Tokyo Olympics where she hopes to win the gold, which, seeing her dedication doesn’t seem like an impossible task.
– Diptisikha Dash