Gymnastics in India these days starts and ends with Dipa Karmakar. Hailed as one of the few female gymnasts in the world to successfully land the Produnova (two and-a-half somersault before landing), which has the most 7.000 points for difficulty.
Dipa, who became the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for Olympics at the final qualifying and test event recently, became such an expert of the technique that three-time World all-round champion (2013-15) Simone Arianne Biles of US became her “big fan”.
“I idolise her (Biles),” an ever smiling Dipa said, adding: “Biles is like a role model for me. Her achievements have inspired me a lot. When I met her during the World championships (2015 in Glasgow), I told her that you inspire me. Instead, she told me that she is the big fan of my ‘Produnova’. She said that she follows my Produnova and what I am doing is very difficult and rare.”
Talking about Biles, Dipa says her words were magical at a time when she was competing against her idol in the World finals.
“It was a proud moment for me. I follow her as one of the legends of the game, but she herself is the big fan of my Produnova. That’s very special. She praised my efforts and what I am doing for my country,” recalled Dipa on Thursday.
Dipa created history when she progressed to the finals of the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championship where she eventually finished fifth.
Dipa’s decision to perform the Pradunova technique was accidental. It was about three to four months before the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 that Dipa was informed that the sports ministry had installed a foam pit at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium to practise the tough vaults.
Along with this pleasant surprise, came her coach BS Nandi’s advice: Try Produnova technique as there is no longer a need to worry about any injury.
Dipa knew that she was supposed to attempt a technique which has hardly been tried by anyone in the world.
Though hesitant to speak English, this 22-year-old Tripura girl hardly had any difficulty in correctly spelling out the Russian name, Yelena Produnova, as she had heard about her being a gymnast.
“Nandi Sir said ‘do you want to try Produnova?’ I immediately said ‘yes’. And that’s how it all began,” Dipa told dna on her return from Rio de Janeiro.
Dipa not only accepted Nandi’s advice but mastered this technique in the remaining three to four months, which led to her qualification for the Olympics.
Having secured the Rio ticket again, Dipa now wants to spend the next four to five days with her parents, catching the early Friday flight to Agartala.
“There is hardly any time left for us before Olympics. We’ll be coming back next week to resume training in Delhi,” her coach informed.
Medal in Rio?
Though Dipa has won 77 medals, including 67 golds, since 2007 she knows that if Produnova goes wrong, it can break the spine and the neck. Despite these dangers, she is ready to continue with a technique which has made her world famous.
“I wouldn’t say that I am satisfied with my performance, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. But, obviously the way I have been performing over the last two years, I am happy with my performance. It was better than my World Championship performance. I can see the improvement,” said Dipa, who won the Junior Nationals in Jalpaiguri at the age of 14.
Before Dipa, 11 Indian male gymnast have taken part in the Olympics (two in 1952, three in 1956 and six in 1964), but none have managed to even come close to winning a medal at this ultimate level.
Sports ministry has wasted no time before including Dipa in the TOPS, by giving Rs 30 lakh immediately for her training and exposure before Olympics. But the next three months are not that easy for her.
“I need to work on my landing. If I can achieve that, then I have a good chance to win the medal in individual competition at Rio,” said Dipa.
Whether Dipa is able to win a medal in Rio may certainly not be a matter of debate in India, but in the exacting world of gymnastics, anyone who has qualified and would be competing against this Indian knows that “a couple of perfect Produnova landings during the competition could well be all that Dipa needs to stand on the podium.
A last-minute ankle injury prevented that at the Incheon Asiad, Rio could well break that jinx.