Dipa Karmarkar’s father, a weightlifting coach, served half a decade in the Andaman islands, training little-known athletes at the SAI facility there. At the time of the Delhi Games, when his daughter was 17 and the baby of India’s gymnastics team, he was in two minds whether to turn up at Delhi to watch her.
On Thursday, the Tripura girl’s modest father, who insisted she start on gymnastics at age 5, would have definitely wanted to be in Glasgow at the Hydro stadium as his girl attempted something that has been achieved only once before in the world, on way to a historic first medal for a Indian woman in gymnastics at the Commonwealth Games.
The Agartala gymnast, who only saw a half-decent international vault when Delhi got the games, attempted the highest difficulty on the vault table, valued at 7.0, which has previously been performed only by Dominican Republic’s Yamilet Pena at the last World Championship.
It was a frighteningly risky maneuver of a handspring double front vault — the maximum difficulty of a double twist in somersault, usually carried out only by the men, owing to the high dangers of injury and the strength required.
Dipa, who was 8th after a poor 13.633 from her first vault, performed a stunning double salto, taking a massive punt, after flying high off her palm, and stuck it cold to impress with a 15.100, the highest at the Commonwealth Games in vault at Glasgow. The forward landing — one of the toughest after the twin-twist — was achieved with such steadiness that she hiked up her average to 14.366 and grabbed the bronze medal in a breathtaking comeback.
That, she had a slight ankle injury, makes her clean landing even more impressive. “We wanted to let her rest in the team event so she wouldn’t aggravate the ankle. But she insisted she would turn up for the team and not let them down,” says manager Shanthi Kumar.
Dipa finished third behind England’s Claudia Fragapane (14.633) and Canada’s Elsabeth Black (14.433).
Incidentally, India’s last-time gymnastics medalist Ashish Kumar had also gone for broke with a 7.0 difficulty, and a couple of mis-steps in landing cost him the gold, despite pulling off the double-twist.
Starting in Agartala at age 5, Dipa is coached by Bishweshwar Nandi — always pushing her to go for the high-value routines, and has been national champ for a few years now. “The competition in vault is always difficult at the Commonwealth Games, and she decided to take the risk on her second vault,” the manager said.
Though gymnastics is very popular in Tripura and Manipur, Dipa had started out on the most basic equipment, but she always fancied the 360 degrees on the vault.
India only got perfect landing mats that are 30 cm (not 10 cm like earlier) four years ago. Women gymnasts have greatly improved their core-stability — stomach, hips, back — which improved balance and movements. And importantly, posture. “Her strength has improved working on trampolins,” the manager says.
Ashish had dared to do the yeopike (or Tsukuhara) with 2 and a half rotations at Delhi. Dipa Karmarkar pulled off a 7.0 and was on seventh heaven having won a medal for the nation.