Dipa Karmakar, who rose from the sporting wilderness of India’s remote northeast, landed a risky front handspring with a double summersault to book a spot in the vault finals, keeping hopes alive of the country’s first Olympic gymnastics medal.
Karmakar followed up the Produnova — dubbed the vault of death — with a Tsuk double full twist, tumbling sideways on the landing, but ending eighth on the overall individual points tally. That was enough to make it to the medals round at the Rio Olympic Arena next Sunday.
“That I have reached the final is an amazing achievement. My coach is very happy because I executed what he had taught me to do,” said Karmakar, who celebrates her 23rd birthday on Tuesday.
But, she wants more — a medal at Rio and teammates in Tokyo. “I’m sure there will be more girls, I’m sure that in 2020, we’ll go to Japan with a team,” she told Hindustan Times, just after her qualifying round.
The enormity of Karmakar’s achievement doesn’t just lie in the fact that she chose the Produnova — the high-scoring but the single-most difficult and dangerous manoeuvre in gymnastics that would be attempted by just one other competitor at Rio. She also overcame flat feet to become one of the country’s best gymnasts, who hardly enjoy any state or private patronage.
In a cricket-mad country of 1.2 billion, Karmakar started the sport aged seven in Tripura, which lacked proper infrastructure and equipment.
“I am under so much pressure. Everyone in India is expecting Dipa to create history in Rio,” her coach Bisweshwar Nand said after he watched Karmakar soar into the air as she practiced her trademark vault.
“I feel that we are carrying the dreams of a billion Indians who just cannot understand how difficult it is for Dipa to get a medal here.”
Karmarkar can die doing what she does. No other gymnast at the Olympics attempted the ‘death vault’ to earn her place in the final. No one else was willing to risk the vault named after the Russian who first managed the two somersaults in the air after a front handspring.
It is a manoeuvre that can leave your body broken. If the gymnast is unable to pull off those tricky two flips, after all they barely manage to spring up about eight feet in the air, then she may break a leg. Worse, she may land on her butt and impact the spine.
Here at Rio only two gymnasts are looking to attempt the manoeuvre. One is the oldest woman in the fray, the 41-year-old Uzbek gymnast Oksana Chusovitina competing in her seventh Olympics. She did not attempt the Produnova in the qualifying. But she says she will in the final. She wants to go out with a bang.
The other woman looking to put her stamp on the psyche of a sport agnostic nation is Karmakar.
Only the desperate attempt the Produnova. It assures a certain 7 point score. Two of these basic vaults puts the score at 14. Karmakar was the last in the top eight with a tally of 14.85.
Simone Biles, the queen of the American team, came up to Karmakar before the vault and said: “Accha karna Produnova. That was so nice. She is such a great gymnast I don’t even deserve to stand next to her.”
Karmakar’s courage does not lie in only pulling off the spectacular vault. It lies in her being able to do it at the Olympics.
“Nothing is the same here like it was during qualifying. The noise, the atmosphere everything is so different,” a visibly elated Karmakar said, flushed with the enormity of being the first Indian to make it so far in this sport.
(With agency inputs)