Dipa Karmakar missed a bronze medal by a whisker, after finishing fourth in the women’s vault finals. She created history, no doubt, producing the best-ever performance by an Indian gymnast in Olympic history on Sunday. The 23-year-old Dipa scored an average of 15.066 points behind bronze winner Giulia Steingruber (15.216) of Switzerland.
Just 0.15 agonizing points stood between her and the podium.
A week back, it was just half a point that proved the difference between Abhinav Bindra and Ukraine’s Serhiy Kulish in the 10m air rifle shoot-off—the difference between India’s first medal at the Rio Olympics and an agonising near-miss.
No one knows the despair of finishing fourth at the Olympics better than Indian shooter Joydeep Karmakar. Four years ago at London, Karmakar had finished fourth in the 50m rifle prone event. It’s a result which rankles him.
“Finishing fourth is very, very heartbreaking and painful. If you finish 10th or if you’re in the final and finish eighth, it’s a big jolt. But if you finish fourth, you are almost there. I regard this word ‘almost’ as very important in my life. The distance was so close, yet so far,” Karmakar told HT.
“I haven’t managed to get over the loss. It’s a big dent. You’re still an Olympian, not an Olympic medallist. The margin was so close. I came too close to it.”
It’s a scar that others like Milkha Singh, who finished fourth in the 1960 Olympics in 400m, and PT Usha, who missed bronze by 100th of a second in the 400m hurdles race at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, also bear.
Shooting is a sport where fractions can be a kingmaker. At London, Karmakar came into the finals with a score of 595, tied with four others. Rajmond Debevec, a veteran of eight Olympics stretching back to 1984, was third with 596 points. Back then, rules were different. Shooters’ scores in the finals, where they had to take 10 shots, were added to qualification scores.
Karmakar’s next 10 shots are all in 10s, but that one-point advantage the eventual bronze medallist, Debevec, carried over from qualification proved to be the difference. The Indian fell 1.9 short of a medal. The frustration made him bang the mat with his fist.
“In the crowd, there was a huge Indian contingent. They made my day. I was about to break down, but they congratulated me.” The tears came in abundance two hours later when he would see Vijay Kumar climb the podium for his silver-medal finish.
“I realised what I had missed. I went back to the final range where there was nobody and I cried like a baby,” said Karmakar.
“When I returned to India, I got a hero’s welcome. People actually hailed me like a fighter and not a loser,” he recollected.
The difference between a bronze and fourth position would become evident when the London medallists were handed fat bonus cheques, while Karmakar got just Rs. 50,000. For a sport where there is barely any money coming in through sponsorships, the amount can make a huge difference.