Thursday, Sep 18, 2014

After a flight, a landing: Why Dipa Karmakar’s medal in Commonwealth Games is its bravest bronze

Supernova: Dipa Karmakar on the vault at the Indira Gandhi stadium, Delhi (Source: Express Photo by Oinam Anand) Supernova: Dipa Karmakar on the vault at the Indira Gandhi stadium, Delhi (Source: Express Photo by Oinam Anand)
Written by Shivani Naik | New Delhi | Posted: August 24, 2014 1:00 am | Updated: August 24, 2014 12:18 pm

The Produnova. It is the “dark arts” of international women’s gymnastics. It’s a word uttered with a gasp, and the dread that accompanies That-Which-Must-Not-be-Named. When performed, this difficult piece of apparatus carries a deathly air, the trepidation seen on the faces of all who watch it unfurl. On July 31 at Glasgow’s Hydro Stadium, India’s Dipa Karmakar rolled out a Produnova in the individual competition at the Commonwealth Games (CWG). The 21-year-old from Tripura is now a sensation on the gymternet — as gymnastics’ close-knit but vocal online community is known. In India, she’s a mere CWG bronze medallist, her countrymen oblivious to what she pulled off, to the gasping awe and wonderment of those present at the Glasgow stadium on that overcast Thursday. That feat was missed by live TV, which is why Karmakar’s bronze — even if it is India’s first women’s gymnastics medal at the Commonwealth Games — doesn’t dazzle as much as some of the golds. But it could be the most significant medal brought home from Glasgow.

Gymnastics speaks a complicated language of three-decimal scores, and not many comprehend its nuances in India where it exists on the fringes —in Bengal, UP and a few states in the Northeast. But suffice to say that Karmakar has logged the highest score on a Produnova in the world: 15.100, which is 7.000 for difficulty, and an 8.100 for execution, with a 0.1 penalty, making her the rarest of rare phenomenons. Only two of her contemporaries have attempted the Produnova: Yamilet Pena of Dominican Republic and Fadwa Mahmoud of Egypt. None has managed to garner a high of 15.100 in a high-profile competition.

When the Russian Yelena Produnova made her dismount stick (landed firmly on unbent feet) at the 1999 Universiade Games, it was considered a high-risk manoeuvre, because her famous handspring double front vault could end up in serious spinal injuries and a straight break on the neck. Yet, the Russian did enough to launch her skill into high-orbit, though it never fetched her an Olympic gold. Later, Yekaterina Tsvetkova was to attempt it many times with mixed results. But the disquiet around the skill has grown since: it is seen as something young gymnasts attempt not fully knowing that it could lead to paralysis or even death. Worse, it is believed that they would take the risk anyway, chasing that difficulty score of 7— the highest on the vault — flinging themselves into the air, and hoping like hell that the landing’s not fatal.

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