By – Boria Majumdar
Dipa Karmakar came tantalizingly close to winning a medal in Rio, but missed out by just 0.15 of a point. With her near-perfect Produnova, she defied beief.
It was the stroke of midnight hour in India. A young 23-year-old from Tripura was getting ready to perform on the biggest stage of her life. Just a few moments before 11.30pm IST, a smiling Dipa Karmakar had walked into a rapturous applause from the Indian section in the crowd at the gymnastics arena in Rio. And one can only wonder what was going through her mind and what lay hidden behind the smile.
The first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Olympics. The first ever Indian woman gymnast to make an Olympic final. The first ever Indian woman gymnast to win an Olympic medal? First, first, first, first, first. I am sure her mind was a muddle. A clutter of emotions. At least mine was. But maybe not so for Dipa. Maybe she had one single thing going through her mind at the time. Her two vaults and to get the Produnova right.
Fifteen minutes into the competition and Dipa Karmakar had a chance. The PRK girl had messed up, and when the Chinese fell short of 15 in her two vaults there was a ray of hope. But there was the legendary Oksana Chusovitina, the 41-year-old champion now representing Ukraine. And guess what. She too was trying the Produnova. Unfortunately for her, however, she wasn’t able to do it to perfection and tumbled onto the mat giving Dipa a real chance. It also showed the difficulty involved in performing the Produnova to perfection. Did it play on Dipa’s mind at all after seeing her more illustrious counterpart fail? Perhaps not. For within moments after Chusovitina, we had the Indian at the top of her mark. Dipa Karmakar, the little champion knew it was the two jumps of her lifetime. Jumps that will be talked about for generations to come. After a very decent first attempt of 14.866, it was time for the Produnova. Twin somersaults and then a perfect landing, Dipa Karmakar had the entire stadium on its feet. A beaming smile and a hug from her coach, the Indian had done it at the biggest stage of them all. A 15.2 and an overall score of 15 and she was very much in contention for a medal.
Yes, Maria Peseka and the now invincible Simone Biles managed to surpass her, but Dipa was surely not eclipsed. An Indian coming fourth in the vault final of artistic gymnastics at the Olympics is like saying an Indian will fight it out with Bolt and Gatlin in the 100 meter final. It has been unthinkable for over a century, and suddenly we have this champion from Tripura turning the impossibility into a reality. She may have missed a medal but overnight she has inspired generations in India to look at Gymnastics in a new light. That Indians can do it is the new mantra, and Dipa Karmakar is at the forefront of it all.
The legendary Abhinav Bindra tweeted it best, ‘Dipa Karmakar- you are my hero’, said Bindra summing up the mood of the entire nation.
And when I managed to meet her two hours from the conclusion of her event at the Games village, she was still a bundle of emotion. As we walked out of the village to the plaza where journalists were waiting to interview her, a tearful Dipa asked rather pleadingly, “deshe loke ki bolche. Ami amar sabta diyechilam’. And before i could say that you are the redeeming feature of what has been a rather dismal Rio campaign, i could see her break down in tears. Dipa Karmakar, the true champion that she is, was hurting. Unlike us, we were all celebrating the historic 4th place finish and felt she had exceeded expectations, Dipa wasn’t happy. She, it was evident, was feeling the pain. Something that wouldn’t go away before she takes centerstage in Tokyo four years later. That is what separates the best from the rest and Karmakar is one such. When I asked her if she had indeed exceeded expectations, pat came the answer “Yes it was the first time that I crossed 15 in my life, and that is what i had set out to do. But a medal is a medal and a fourth place finish is a fourth place finish.’
The maturity was unbelievable. And she wasn’t done yet. “i will now focus on the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games and then will go to Tokyo. I can promise you all i will be around for Tokyo and will only breathe easy after I have won an Olympic medal for India.’
After what she has achieved for India at Rio very few will dare to doubt her.
As the interview progressed and as i was trying to understand her mind, two things became clear- here was a woman who was determined to do well. Failure was never an option, and she had overcome the biggest difficulty that we are all faced with at certain points in our lives- fear. Dipa Karmakar does not have the fear of failure, and that’s what makes her different from us mortals. She knows it is hard out there. She knows the Produnova is dangerous, and one faulty jump might end her career forever. But she really isn’t bothered for she knows she will not fail. A thousand plus Produnova jumps in the last three months and Dipa Karmakar, well and truly, is set to take the Gymnastics world by storm in the coming years. Yes, she is no Simone Biles. But coming from where she has and getting to where she has now is a story that will be told to generations. There is little doubt Dipa will have inspired many a thousand Indian youngsters to taking up Gymnastics and made a sport with little tradition a household name in India.
Finally, one must say this- the Dipa story has not ended. Rather, it is just the beginning. And the start, must one say, has been auspicious. At the stroke of midnight hour the girl from Tripura has awakened our consciousness to the fact that everything is possible if you work hard. And harder. And even harder.
Dipa Karmakar- you are our story in Rio and here’s hoping you will be an even bigger story in Tokyo. For then the world will take notice to what a young woman can do to a country with no sports culture. We will all await 2020 will keenness and anticipation. Well done Dipa.
Boria Majumdar (Historian / Writer / Commentator / Journalist)
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