Dipa Karmakar’s date with the Rio Olympics is a saga of self-belief and hardwork. The 23-year-old from Agartala had to wage a major battle to fight back her own fears of failure because of her flat foot, but she made history by becoming the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Olympics.“I think the key to my gold medal and the qualification for the Rio Olympics was the self belief that I had in myself. Before this competition (it was her last chance to qualify for Rio) I told myself that it was either now or never. It is true that I was tense but fully confident that I could make the cut for the Olympics,” Dipa, the daughter of a weightlifter, said.
For those who thought that Dipa’s journey was something of a smooth passage, they will be in for a major surprise. For Dipa, who was born with flat foot, and a phobia of falling down from a height, gymnastics was not the sport she was expected to excel in. “Yes when I was young, I had a fear of falling. I don’t know how it started but then the fear of falling was to haunt me for a long time. And in a sport like gymnastics, where there is every likelyhood of a fall,” she said.
Once she got over the fear of falling, thanks to her coach Bishbeshar Nandy, she was beset by another major problem. “The flat feet that I was born with was another major impediment. For someone born with flat feet, it is quite impossible to be a successful gymnast since it affects the spring in one’s steps, which is so critical for a gymnast. It took me a lot of time under the guidance of Nandi sir, to sort out this problem,” said Dipa.
Even Dipa’s initial tryst with competitive gymnastics did not start off great. It took her a while to win competitions at the district and state levels. But once she won the Junior Nationals title in Jalpaiguri in 2007, there was no looking back. “I think that win was what gave me and my parents the required confidence. I also realised that with hardwork and with the expertise of my coach (Nandi) I could go far in the sport,” said Dipa.
Once Dipa had established her credentials at the national level, she began to aim high. “I used to ask myself if I could become champion at the national level, I could also start winning at the international level. I told my coach Nandi sir that if I could propel myself to put in more hard work I could be able to replicate my success at the international level too. Nandi sir’s reply was that if I was to do well at the international level, I had to push myself much harder,” said Dipa.
Her hunger for success at the international level was so much that Dipa began to put in more hours of hard work. Her moment of inspiration came at the 2010 CWG in Delhi when she witnessed teammate Ashish Kumar winning the bronze medal. “I think that was the moment of inspiration—when Ashish became the first Indian to win a medal at the international level. I told myself if he could do it, I could also do it,’ she said. Not surprisingly, she went on to win the bronze medal in the vault. She followed it up by becoming the first Indian ever to make it to the final of the World Gymnastics Championships where she went on to win the fifth place.
Looking ahead, Dipa said that her burning desire now was to win an Olympic medal. “Right now I am focused on winning a medal at the Olympics. I know no Indian has done it before—that gives me a sort of challenge to go for it. And after my success at Rio, I will be returning to the same venue in August. I know the conditions well there and I hope I can realise my mission,” she said with a chuckle.