Sinlung /
10 August 2015

Meet Dipa Karmakar: From a flat-footed 6-year-old to India's top female gymnast

Fifteen years back when Tripura state gymnastics coach Bishweshwar Nandi took a 6-year-old girl from SAI center under his wing, he knew he'd found a winner. Fast forward to 2015, Nandi is lost for words on how proud he is of his charge, Indian gymnastic star Dipa Karmakar, who won bronze at the recently concluded Asian Championships in Japan.

"I am very proud of what I achieved in Hiroshima," Dipa told Firstpost. "I finished behind two gymnasts [China's Yang Wan and Japan's Sae Miyakawa] both of whom have been very competitive in the Youth Olympics."

The bronze at Hiroshima comes a year after she created history by becoming India's first ever women gymnast to win a Commonwealth medal, when she clinched bronze - again at the Vault table - in the 2014 Glasgow games.

"I still remember Dipa coming to me as a flat-footed kid, which is not good for a gymnast. It affects the spring in her jump," Nandi told Firstpost. "That was the hardest part to fix for Dipa, we had to work very, very hard when she was a little kid to get the curve in her feet."

"Only after coach Nandi corrected my flat foot, my journey began," adds Dipa saying she would be nothing today if not for her coach.

But since then, the desire to work hard has not diminished for the Agartala girl.

"I was so young when I tried gymnastics for the first time. My father was a SAI coach and he wanted me to try it, so I just went along with him. I wasn't really that interested in the beginning," Dipa said. "But in 2007 when I won at the Junior Nationals in Jalpaiguri I started gaining interest."
Then came the turning-point for Dipa. She was part of the 2010 Indian gymnastics contingent in the Delhi Commonwealth Games where, as a participant, she saw Ashish Kumar create history by winning India's first ever gymnastic medals at the games. "That's when I told myself I will win it for India in Glasgow four years down the line," said Dipa.

And so she did it in Glasgow - the same place where she is headed soon for the World Championships that begin in October and is a qualifying event for Rio 2016.

"I am working hard for the Worlds now. That is all my focus in on now It is a very tough event - all the top players will be there. Last time I finished 10th but now I am practising harder with increased difficulty levels. I am hoping to put my best effort and see if I can make it to the Olympics," she said.

As she prepares for the World Championships, Dipa trains from 9 am - 12: 30 pm and 5 - 8:30 pm every day - hoping to improve on her performance in Hiroshima.
The event from where the gymnasts who finish on the podium qualify directly for the Olympics is her toughest challenge yet. As she turns 22 on 9 August, she is growing 'old' by the standards seen in Gymnastics these days. The Gold and Silver medallists in the Hiroshima event were both 15-year-olds. But she doesn't see that as an issue.

"I still feel at the top of my game. There was an Olympian in 2012 who competed with the best when he was 39 years old! I still feel I have 5-6 years left in my game, no problem," she says with confidence. It's because there is still a place for
power gymnastics in international events, explains Nandi.

"Desire, hunger to do well in gymnastics. Dipa has that. She told me once 'Whatever you want me to do, I will not say no to you coach'," and except when she loses her temper with me, she has kept her word," Nandi laughed.

"Yes, I am a bit short-tempered," Dipa agreed with a sheepish grin. "I get angry a lot - some times at the coach when something he tells doesn't work but most times at myself for not doing the routine correctly. (I) Never get angry at my parents but when I am trying my coach is my father and mother, and we have gotten used to it," she adds.

Like with many other not-so-popular sports in India, 58-year-old Nandi said that gymnastics still has a long way to go before there are more like Ashish and Dipa. "Starting late last year, we had no facilities to practice at all for eight full months, because of problems with the federation. All we did was personal training, but without equipment Dipa lost eight months of training time," said Nandi.

"But thankfully, SAI (Sports Authority of India) organised a camp for two months starting June. I can honestly say without that camp Dipa would not have won Bronze in Hiroshima. Despite problems, we are grateful for what help we get from authorities," he said.

Dipa, who says she has been training at the vault table harder than ever, concurred that things have been different since she won the medal at Glasgow.

"Things have changed now. Before Glasgow, Indians hardly knew our women participated in gymnastics. Now they know there is someone who won a medal. Before, no one knew my name. Today, slowly and steadily, more and more people know there is someone called Dipa Karmakar," she said before excusing herself for her second training session of the day.


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