It needed the best gymnast in the world — probably the greatest-ever — to come up with the highest vault score of this Olympics, to push Dipa Karmakar off the podium. However, the modern-day Nadia Comaneci, Simone Biles’s, final trump card — the ultra-difficult Cheng — couldn’t nudge India’s newest Olympic star off the pedestal. Unlike many on the big night, like North Korea’s Hong Un-jong who fluffed her triple-twisting Yurchenko routine, Karmakar wasn’t shaky doing her gravity-defying Produnova on the big stage. The 23-year-old was fourth but hers wasn’t a heart-breaking near-miss story. She had challenged the best in the world, she had ignited India’s interest in gymnastics and made a cricket-crazy nation discuss Produnova and Yurchenko as casually as they talk about reverse sweeps and cover drives.
India has no gymnastics pedigree. Before Karmakar, Ashish Kumar, a gymnast from Allahabad who won a bronze and a silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and went on to secure a bronze medal at the Guangzhou Asiad later that year, had been India’s tenuous link to international standards. Karmakar earned Olympic qualification, honing her craft at a place which until 2013 had been an unused judo hall. The Khumulwng Tribal Gymnasium in west Tripura has only one vaulting board for 55 young trainees. On D-Day, Karmakar was lined up with finalists from nations with a rich gymnastics history, robust support system, state-of-art training facilities and legendary coaches. Biles had on her side Bela and Marta Karolyi, the husband-wife pair who have coached 9 Olympic champions, the first of them being the Perfect 10 Comaneci. Russia and China between them have 48 Olympic gold medals.
Karmakar is willing to push the envelope, she dares to dream and do all that with a smile. She has missed the medal but she has given a mighty fright to the girls on the podium. When she says that she will be back in 2020, the world knows she is serious.