Dipa Karmakar is India’s first female gymnast to qualify for the Olympics in 52 years. Despite all her achievements, the one feat that shot her to fame, was landing a perfect Produnova. Named after legendary athlete Yelena Produnova, the act requires extreme concentration with high levels of flexibility. It involves a front handspring and two front somersaults. If done incorrectly, the feat can be career threatening or worse. But when the 22-year old landed on her foot, she had become 1 of the only 5 women in history to have completed the feat. Dipa’s first major tournament was the Junior Nationals in 2007. As of right now, she has 77 medals, with 67 golds, including bronze medals in Asian championships 2015 and Commonwealth games in Glasgow 2014, where she finished the infamous Produnova with perfection. The Tripura athlete was awarded “Gymnaste de Classe Mondaile” by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). She will wear a gold pin at the RIO olympics to mark this honour.
Karmakar may have achieved some extraordinary feat in her career but her beginnings were not so spectacular. Starting to practice gymnastics at the age of 6, Dipa was told that she “suffered” from flat feet; a postural deformity in the gymnastics community. It is a condition where almost the entire sole of the foot touches the ground, affecting the spring in the jump. So, her initial days of training involved the basics of getting the curve on her foot correctly. She had very primitive equipment when she started as a gymnast. Gymnastics is not a popular sport in India. And the fact that she is the first female Indian gymnast in 52 years, sums up the difficulties she has had to face. When the 2010 Commonwealth Games were hosted by Delhi in 2010, the manufacturer Gymnova provided her with cast offs from the competition. Till she qualified for the Olympics, those were the equipment she used.
Once she made it to the Olympics, government support poured in and has helped her practice better in order to secure a podium finish in the tournament.
And her dedication can be judged by the mere fact that she does 127 vaults in a day. In her comparison, Simone Biles; American favourite for a gold, does only about 15 complete vaults a week.
In a country where athletes, other than cricketers aren’t paid any attention, Dipa has been a beacon of hope for those, ignored and unsupported for a long time. Hailing from Tripura, she has probably had a tougher lead up to the mega tournament than any of her competitors, but surely comes off as a serious medal contender.