Dipa Karmakar was sleep walking. Quite literally. Be it in the morning, where she was ‘welcomed’ by two warring Gymnastics federation factions. Or later in the day, when the weary-eyed gymnast met her young, starry-eyed admirers at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium.
The lack of sleep, jet lag, and tiredness emerging out of relentless hard work over the last few months was visible. But Dipa would conceal it well with a smile. In the intervening period between the two events, she had rasgulla, burger and fries. An ice-cream too. That was the liveliest the 23-year-old looked all day, her coach Bisweswar Nandi joked.
One had to be there at the IGI Stadium to see the impact Dipa has had on young minds with her fourth-place finish at the Rio Games last Sunday. One by one, Dipa met gymnasts, shuttlers, table tennis players and boxers who are currently training at the IGI Stadium.
The talks on the badminton court were, of course, all about PV Sindhu. But Dipa’s jigar is what they would repeatedly mention. Gymnasts, aged no more than five, were talking Produnova. That it was labelled as a ‘death vault’ did not deter them. Or their parents. “If Dipa can do it so well, so can my child,” said a mother of a young gymnast, who presented Dipa a poster that had ‘You are a shining star of Gymnastics’ written on it.
Despite a sleepless night, smile wouldn’t leave her face throughout the time she was at the gymnastics hall of the IGI Stadium. This is where her journey took shape. It was here, on a worn out vault table, that practiced her Produnovas and Tshukaras.
When the sports ministry gave her the option of training at a centre of her choice aboard under any foreign coach she wanted, Dipa instead chose one of ministry’s key centres to practice. The thought of hiring a foreign coach never crossed her mind. “When I was there, I saw almost every girl had a foreign coach — a Russian or Chinese. But I finished above them with an Indian coach. Our coaches are very good,” she said, clutching Nandi’s hands.
Dipa was still experience lingering disappointment with her fourth-place finish. Even on Saturday, she apologised for not bringing home a medal. “I could’ve won it,” she said. But Nandi consoled her. So did the young gymnasts who were there to greet her, and their parents.
Nandi, who is set to be nominated for the Dronacharya Award, and Dipa were scheduled to leave for Tripura on Saturday evening. After another round of felicitations by the local government, Nandi has given his ward 15 days of freedom. “It’s a break she deserves. We will think about the future only after that. Next two weeks, she can do whatever she wants,” Nandi said.
But Dipa is already thinking about the road about. Her immediate target is the Commonwealth and Asian Games in 2018. “It’s necessary to do well there to continue the momentum. I look forward to compete in other tournaments as well,” she said. “Practice, however, still remains the key.”
Nandi added their target was to ensure three men and three women gymnasts each qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
One Dipa isn’t enough to sustain gymnastics, he realises. But this Dipa has done enough to wake the sport from its slumber.