Tripura’s Dipa Karmakar created history late on Sunday, becoming the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games. Karmakar was competing in the Olympic qualification test event in Rio de Janeiro and finished 18th totalling 52.698 over four apparatuses --- vaulting horse, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercises.
Independent India has seen 11 male gymnasts compete at the Olympic Games --- two in 1952, three in 1956 and six in 1964 --- but this is the first time that an Indian woman has made it to the quadrennial games.
The 22-year-old vault specialist narrowly missed a Rio berth at the World Championships in November last year, finishing fifth, and there were a lot of expectations from her going into the Rio event. To qualify for the Games, Karmakar needed to finish in the top-29 at Rio, and she did not disappoint.
Karmakar’s first vault, the Produnova (a difficult artistic manoeuvre) earned her 15.066 points, the highest among 14 competitors. She then had a poor outing on the uneven bars where she collected 11.700 points.
The 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games bronze medallist then earned 13.366 and 12.566 points, respectively in beam and floor exercises to total 52.698.
In the recent past, Karmakar is the second Indian to put the country on the gymnastics map, with Allahabad boy Ashish Kumar setting the benchmark by clinching a bronze and silver at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.
Karmakar has shown tremendous improvement in the last couple of years. During the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon, she finished fourth in the vault final, scoring 14.200 in a field of competitors that had Olympic gold, silver and the bronze medallists. “The two top girls here (at Incheon) are gold and silver medallists at the Olympics, while the third is a bronze-medal winner at the World Championships. So, I’m more than happy that I gave them a good fight and finished fourth,” Karmakar had said on return from Incheon.
Though at the Rio event on Sunday Karmakar couldn’t match her personal best score, but on the balance beam her total of 13.366 was an improvement over her 2015 showing at the Worlds.
Karmakar developed a liking for gymnastics when she was six with Bisweshwar Nandi becoming her first coach in Agartala. She announced her arrival on the big stage in 2011 when she won five gold medals at the National Games in 2011.