I Overcame Humiliation to Reach the Olympics: Dipa Karmakar
When she left her home in Agartala to attend the junior national camp a decade back, the biggest crisis India's latest gymnastic sensation faced was about her identity.
A file image of Dipa Karmakar. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Recognition, acknowledgement and success are biggest driving forces for a small-town athlete who wants to make it big in any field; and history-maker Dipa Karmakar, a gymnast from Tripura, is no exception as she heads for her maiden appearance at the Olympics.
When she left her home in Agartala to attend the junior national camp almost a decade back, the biggest crisis she faced was about her identity as some of her mates in the camp took pot shots at her.
A 12-year-old Dipa was not mentally prepared for such treatment, so it took her some time to adjust to the new surroundings that at times appeared unwelcoming.
As the one chasing her dreams of scaling new heights, Dipa told herself to reply her bashers in a manner they would have least expected. So when the 22-year-old vaulted to Olympic qualification in the Rio de Janeiro test event with a gold medal last week, she silenced her critics the best possible way.
In fact, she carved a new identity for herself by becoming the first Indian female gymnast to make it to the Olympics, also the first gymnast from the country after the 1964 Tokyo Games, to book a berth for the most prestigious quadrennial event.
"It's the best moment of my life. I was preparing for it for a long time. It's great that all my hard work paid dividends," she told News18 in an interview.
"As a beginner in the national camp, I had some unwelcoming experience of being called a Bangladeshi. I believe those who said such things to me will now know better who I am," Dipa said.
Dipa scored 14.833 points (aggregated 52.698) in the qualifying event to secure an Olympic berth for the Artistic event. She is also the first female Indian gymnast to win a gold an international event, which she did at the same qualifying event.
The 23-year-old believes her unprecedented success will spark an interest among girls in Tripura that has had a tradition of producing good gymnasts.
"Olympic qualification was long awaited. Tripura has good gymnasts but none of them ever made it to the Olympics. I hope my success will inspire them to step up and go for bigger spoils," she said.
The qualification, however, only means a ticket to the Olympics. Whether she gets behind the wheel and drive herself to the podium will become a different fairytale for her to narrate to her grandchildren.
In the 2012 London Olympics, gold medallist Sandra Raluca Izbasa of Romania secured 15.191 points, while the bronze medallist Russian Maria Paseka had 15.050 points. In comparison, Dipa's best has been 14.900 at the 2015 World Championship.
"I need to make some serious amends in order to garner hopes of a medal at the Rio Games. I have to work more on my execution part because that's the area which will fetch me more points.
"I am joining the national camp in New Delhi from May 1 and will discuss with my coach Bisweswar Nandi how can I improve on my performance in the next few months," she said.
While Nandi lauds his ward's achievement , he too believes that she has to raise the bar for an Olympic medal.
"Her performance at the Rio test event was very good, but Dipa needs to improved a lot for the main event in August. The best I can hope is she wins a medal.
"We will start our preparations keeping that in mind. We haven't decided on whether we will go abroad for training, but she has to utilise every minute of next four months," said Nandi.
Dipa, a gymnast with flat feet - a deformity that made her landings even more difficult, cut her sporting teeth at Agartala's Sports Authority of India centre. She was first introduced to the sport as a five-and-a-half-year old by her father Dulal Karmakar, who himself is a SAI weightlifting coach. He took Dipa to Nandi.
"I was lucky to have family support from the beginning of my career. Since my father was a SAI coach, he understood the needs of an athlete and I was lucky in that way that my family members always encouraged me," she said.
Dipa first shot into limelight by winning a gold at the 2007 junior nationals; however, the opportunity to excel at the international stage arrived with the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, but she failed to win a medal.
At the 2010 CWG, she got her inspiration from fellow gymnast Ashish Kumar, who became the first Indian to win a medal at the British colonial games. That was the time when she vowed to herself to win a medal in Glasgow four years later.
She lived up to that promise by becoming the first female gymnast to fetch a bronze at the 2014 CWG.
"My performance at the 2010 CWG was not good but it gave me the taste of top-level competition. I couldn't do well but my coach and federation officials kept telling me that I could improve on and win medals in the coming competitions" she said.
The 2010 CWG turned out to be a boon for her for more than one reason. The French equipment, used for the main Games, were lying unattended once the event was over. A Delhi-based SAI official Ram Nivas Gupta, considering Dipa's interest in gymnastics, sent equipment to Agartala, where she used to train on sub-standard equipment.
"The arrival of equipment from Delhi meant I could do quality training in Agartala itself," said Dipa.
However, four years down the line in Glasgow, an achievement that went completely unnoticed was that she became only the third female gymnast to complete a 'Produnova', a vault that consists of a frontal handspring and two front somersaults.
The 'Produnova' is so difficult that it can result in spinal injury or even death in the event of a slightest of mistake.
Dipa proved that her bronze in Glasgow was no fluke as she repeated the performance at the 2015 Asian Championships.
She was climbing up the ladder fast but it was not the best time for the body controlling the sport in India as an infighting between top officials and a lack of national federation meant her training took a severe hit ahead of the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.
As a result, she could barely prepare but still finished as high as fifth.
Her name was discussed only among sporting circles until she created a flutter to secure a Rio Olympics berth last week.
However, Dipa Karmakar is still a relatively unknown name in most parts of the country, but that identity crisis will be put to bed if she goes on to win a medal in the Brazilian city four months from now.
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