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The Big Test for Dipa Karmakar

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Dipa Karmakar is one name that has been doing rounds in India since April of this year. At the test event organised by the FIG (Federation Internationale de Gymnastique), the Indian gymnast completed the Produnova, (a gymnastic event named after the Russian Yelena Produnova), thereby Dipa ensured she would represent India in Gymnastics.

Gymnastics as a sport is relatively new for a lot of people in India. We admire the finesse, the art involved in those subtle movements, which makes me wonder, why, a country like India struggles to produce gymnasts when there are world-class dancers.

Yes, there is a difference in technique, however, the talent is there. Look at the many circus shows, the acrobatic gymnasts have been part of India for ages, however strictly for entertainment purposes.

For the second consecutive Summer Olympic edition, India will have a story even before the Games have begun. Dipa Karmakar became the first female gymnast to qualify for the Olympics, a feat that will catalyse and inspire many upcoming gymnasts in the country.

Another reason I believe the 22-year old story has become a headline is the fact – it would be the first time any gymnast from India would be part of the Olympics in over 50 years. The last time India had a representation in gymnastics, one has to go back to 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, when a band of six brothers made the trip to Japan.

There were eight events designated for the men’s gymnastics at Tokyo – Individual All-Around, Team All-Around, Floor Exercise, Horse Vault, Parallel Bars, Horizontal Bar, Rings and Pommelled Horse.

India’s six representatives for gymnastics were part of 130 men who took part in the event. And, out of 53 athletes that was part of the Indian contingent, names like Bandu Bhosle, Vithal Karande, Trilok Singh, Yagmal More, Anant Ram and Darshan Mondal were among the lesser known.

Indian gymnasts were never really in the hunt for the top 10 and their poor outing reflected in the fact that, India was the last placed in the 18th position at the team event. And, none of the six men made it past the qualifying round in the individual six events.

The Rio 2016 Olympics will be the fourth occasion when Indian gymnasts have qualified for the quadrennial event. Vir Singh and Khushi Ram became the first gymnasts to make it to the Olympics from India at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Games. In the next edition, there were three who made it to Melbourne – Pritam Singh, Sham Lal and Anant Ram.

Going by the recent form, Dipa Karmakar has a good chance to win a medal, why not? If she prepares and remains in healthy state of mind, anything can happen on the competition day. How is her hunger level for a medal? or is she satisfied just by qualifying for the Olympics?

It won’t be a cake walk, as Dipa has to contend with the likes of Russia’s Maris Paseka, the 2015 World and European vault champion; North Korea’s Hong Hun-Jong; Oksana Chusovitina, who will be competing in what would a record seventh consecutive appearance in gymnastics; USA’s Simone Biles and British gymnast Elissa Downie.

Each of these athletes have a tale to tell and Dipa’s would be the most celebrated one if one puts her journey into the context. She has taken the difficult first step, and what remains to be seen is how the combo of Dipa Karmakar and Bisweswar Nandi, her coach would work it out come the big day in less than a month’s time.