Experts debated the risks in gymnastics after French gymnast Samir Ait Said broke his left leg trying to land a vault in men’s qualifying in the Rio Olympics on Saturday.
The accident brought into focus the scoring system, which pushes athletes to try increasingly dangerous moves. But the tragedy didn’t perturb India’s gymnastics star Dipa Karmakar.
The girl from Agartala’s Abhaynagar executed the most difficult and riskiest jump in her discipline on Sunday , which appeared a small hurdle when compared with the difficulties she had to overcome in pursuit of her dream in her hometown.
“Initially, we had no apparatus at the Netaji Subhas Regional Coaching Centre (NSRCC). We had no vaulting platform as such. So, we stacked mats on top of each other to make a platform, collected springs and shock absorbers from discarded scooters and attached them with plywood to make a spring board,” coach Bisweshwar Nandi told Hindustan Times from Rio de Janeiro on Monday.
But 14 years of single-minded practice and planning helped Karmakar, who celebrates her 23rd birthday on Tuesday, put her home state Tripura on the international sporting map. She won the vault bronze at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The nation, and the world, noticed — India’s first woman to win a gymnastic medal at a major competition.
“Her success at Rio is historic, considering the difficulties she faced. She had to practice the floor exercise without a mat. When Dipa first started to vault, she used to jump from this (a makeshift platform) onto a pile of mats,” said Saraju Chakraborty, sports editor with an Agartala-based daily, Syandan Patrika.
He had closely watched Karmakar’s struggles and rise since her childhood.
The young gymnast and her coach often travelled to New Delhi for training at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, at least for three months before a sporting event. The infrastructure in Tripura was so poor, Chakraborty said.
Karmakar surmounted the hurdles with hard work, winning individual events at the National Games five consecutive times between 2010 and 2014, including five gold medals at the Ranchi edition in 2011 at age 17. Three years later, she stunned the world in Glasgow.
“After the CWG success, the state government and sports officials started acknowledging the difficulties faced by athletes in Tripura. Now, NSRCC has parallel bars, balance beams, uneven parallel bars, vault table or stacked mats, all thanks to the new star from the state,” Chakraborty said.
Coach Nandi too acknowledged the sea-change his ward’s success has brought.
The Sports Authority of India spent more Rs 80 lakh to import apparatus from France, he said in a recent interview to a news agency. Another Rs 30 lakh was allocated for her day-to-day expenses, including training and travel.
“Yes, people have high expectations from me. Such pressure only makes you better,” Karmakar had said after qualifying for Rio.