“Don’t ever think India can’t do anything, India can do a lot.”Dipa Karmakar, the 22-year-old gymnast from Tripura, was speaking to the world media in the mixed zone on Sunday, her eyes shining with satisfaction and pride, flashing that quiet challenge. The experts who were smiling indulgently looked at her and were taken aback by her confidence. She then flashed that sweet, toothy child-like smile, and they were all charmed.
This daredevil, pint-sized package of sheer grace, balance, strength and power – she is just four feet, 10 inch in her socks – had the gymnastics world mesmerized by her performance on the vault here on Sunday. She had written a new chapter in Indian sport by qualifying for the women’s vault final as the eighth qualifier. That was something unimaginable in a country where balancing on a rope is seen as a street art perfected by the tribals.
She went into the final with a prayer on her lips and a dream in her heart; courage is anyway synonymous with her name by now. She knew that she could compete with the best and even surprise them – not by luck but by sheer daring and perfection of her art.
Dipa started sixth in the group. Guilia Steinberger of Switzerland, who had performed before her, was leading with a score of 15.216. Dipa knew that the two gymnasts after her – Maria Paseka of Russia and Simone Biles of the US – were more experienced and could trump her.
She had to better the Swiss lady’s score. She started with her first routine, the Tsukahara 720 – any vault that has a handspring with 14-12 turn on to the vault table into a salto backwards is classified as a Tsukahara vault. Dipa is still trying to perfect it but she landed clean, to a huge round of applause.
The score of 14.866 was decent enough to keep her in the medal hunt – so far – as her favourite, the death-defying Produnova, was her second and final routine. She went through the process, like only she can on this earth, and landed on her feet, her 47kg frame taking the weight of about 90kg.
She went down a bit and was up with a spring, beaming and waving as the crowd roared its approval. She earned a 15.266 for this act for an average total of 15.066, second behind the Swiss girl. She went back to her bench and sat down, watching the final two performances with bated breath. The Russian got a 15.253 while Biles was way ahead of others with 15.966.Dipa had no complaints. She was not here to benefit from others’ mistakes. She was here to perform, and give her best. She was satisfied. “The other three were better than me. But I am happy that I finished fourth. They are all much more experienced. This is my first Olympics,” Dipa said later.”This is also my highest score in the Produnova – 15.266. My earlier best was 15.22. But I know I can do better.”