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Five things to know about Pranati Nayak: The gymnast set for Tokyo 2020

Pranati Nayak made  the cut for Tokyo 2020 through a continental quota
By Samrat Chakraborty

Rising Indian gymnast Pranati Nayak became the talk of the town on Sunday as she secured the Asian quota for Tokyo 2020. The FIG (International Gymnastics Federation) however, are likely to confirm the berth only in June.

Nayak, thus, became the second reserve - behind Elpitiya Badalge Dona Milka Geh of Sri Lanka - to secure the quota from Asia after the 9th Senior Asian Championships, slated to run from May 29-June 1 in Hangzhou, was called off due to Covid-19 pandemic.

As Nayak looks to be on her way to become only the second Indian woman - besides her idol Dipa Karmakar - to compete in artistic gymnastics at the Olympics, here's a closer look at the 26-year-old:

Pranati Nayak in action (Courtesy: @babaighosh/Twitter)

Humble beginnings

Nayak was born in Jhargram, West Bengal. The family lived modestly as her father was a state transport bus driver until 2017. He took up small jobs in an office for the last two years, as he was nearing the retirement age of 60.

Her ambition and drive to succeed stems from this family struggle.

"Everything I do is for my parents. They’ve not had an easy life, and I want to ensure my father gets comfortable. He’s driven a bus for many years and now I want life to be a little easy for him. My parents don’t have a son, but I told them I was enough to take care of them,” Nayak had told the Indian Express.

Yoga? or Gymnastics?

Nayak took up gymnastics seriously in 2004 in Kolkata amid financial hardships.

Interestingly, Nayak first thought she was practising Yoga when she took up the sport as seven-year-old in school. But the misconception soon changed and given her 'affinity' to climb trees and jump into ponds as a child, she too took to gymnastics like a duck takes to water.

She was recommended by her school to gymnastics coach Minara Begum who not only helped polish the basics of the sport but also took care of her expenses. Minara, who retired from Sports Authority of India (SAI) in 2019, coached her till then. After her retirement, Nayak is being trained by Lakhan Manohar Sharma.

"My parents couldn’t have afforded my sports career, Minara ma’am took care of my stay, food, other expenses and pocket money when I saw that’s what teenagers got,” Nayak had said back then.

Third Indian to earn a major vaulting medal

Her consistent performances in the domestic circuit saw Nayak get a job with the Indian Railways and get included in the Indian teams for international tournament.

Interestingly, Nayak outperformed her idol Dipa Karmakar at the 2018 Asian Games, finishing eighth while Karmakar could not even qualify for the final.

For Nayak, her bronze medal at the 2019 Asian Gymnastics Championships in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in the vault event was the most memorable achievement in her career. She secured the third spot after two clean landings which helped her score 13.384.

It also helped her become only the third Indian gymnast behind her idol Karmakar (2014 Commonwealth Games) and Aruna Reddy (2018 World Cup gymnastics) to earn a major vaulting medal for India.

2019 World Championship disappointment

After her bronze at the 2019 Asian Gymnastics Championships in Ulaanbaatar, Nayak had hoped to secure Olympic qualification at the 2019 World Championships.

But she was in for a disappointment. Despite doing well in her favorite vault event, her below-par score in beam meant her dreams were dashed.

She had totalled 45.832 after scoring 14.200 in vault, 11.133 in floor exercise, 10.566 in bar and 9.933 in beam.

In fact, after the lockdown ensured most events were cancelled in 2020, Nayak had chalked out the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games as her next major events. Only for fate to throw a welcome curve-ball!

No special training for a year

The news of securing a Tokyo 2020 quota came as a surprise for Nayak. More so, as she had not trained at the SAI facility for nearly a year now, due to the Covid-19 restrictions. She is expected to, however, resume training at Kolkata once her berth for Tokyo 2020 is officially confirmed.

"SAI Kolkata, where I train, has been closed for a year because of Covid-19 and now there's a lockdown here (West Bengal) as well. I have been told that I will be allowed special permission to train from next week. I'll feel more assured once I receive an official confirmation of my qualification. The major task now is catching up on a year's training in two months," Nayak told ESPN.

However, she has been keeping herself fit at her home through fitness regimes and hopes to step up her preparations and be in optimum shape at Tokyo, despite the limited time available.