‘End of Dipa Karmakar' - Star Indian gymnast recalls tough phase after Rio breakthrough

The only Indian woman gymnast to have participated in the Olympics, Karmakar is not letting an injury setback cloud her career

By Samrat Chakraborty

When Dipa Karmakar finished fourth at the Rio Olympics, she was hailed as the next big thing in Indian sport. But the Indian gymnast underwent surgery to treat her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury in 2017. The nagging knee injury has kept her from sustained competition. Karmakar missed the World Championships at Stuttgart, Germany in 2019 and has not yet been able to secure a berth for the Tokyo Games.

Critics started predicting the end of her career. Karmakar admitted it was a tough phase mentally but her long-time coach Bisheshwar Nandi helped her remain strong.

“I was preparing very well and very carefully before the 2019 World Championship and despite that, I got injured and had to withdraw from the tournament,” Dipa Karmakar told the Olympic Channel.

“I was really devastated and I could see people speaking about it being, ‘the end of Dipa.’ It was a really tough situation for me and my coach Nandi sir because we were really working hard going into the tournament keeping an eye for qualifying for Tokyo as well. Mentally it was a very hard phase for me, but Nandi sir has made sure I stay strong and whenever I make my comeback I am at my very best."

Nandi took Karmakar under his wings when the gymnast was six years old. The Agartala-gymnast was flat-footed, a condition not ideal for her chosen discipline. But through rigorous training, Karmakar was able to develop arches on her foot, which eased her run in the future.

"I share a father-daughter relationship with Nandi sir. I feel very proud and lucky to have him as my coach and mentor,” she said.

“He keeps an eye on every aspect of my sport, from my diet to the amount of sleep I am getting. Many people tend to think that he’s my father and I have started from zero under his guidance and reached where I am today. And I hope, under his supervision and blessings I will be able to make a stronger comeback.”

Even as gymnastics, more than most other sports, is age-sensitive, the 27-year-old Karmakar is taking inspiration from Olympian Oksana Chusovitina.

Indian gymnast Dipa Karmakar is known for her Produnova Vaults.

Chusovitina, of Uzbekistan, became the oldest gymnast to compete at the Olympics as she featured in the Rio Games at the age of 41 years and two months. Competing in her record seventh Olympics, Chusovitina was the only other gymnast in the vault finals at the Rio Olympics to have executed the Produnova.

"Yes, people speak about the small age window for us gymnasts a lot. But I don’t think age plays such a huge role in a gymnasts performance,” said Karmakar.

“We all should take Oksana as an example; if she can still do so well at the age of 45, then why shall I consider the age factor now. It’s all about how fit you are mentally as well as physically and if you have will power to give it a shot, you can definitely do it.”

"Apart from Oksana, you’ll find many such examples who have never let age be a factor in their performance and I take them as a motivation to keep my focus only on my work and keep pushing myself to do better in the future," she added.

The forced break during the pandemic gave her some much-needed time to recover from the knee injury. Karmakar got back to training in August 2020 at the Netaji Subhash Regional Coaching Centre at Agartala. With the Tokyo Games seemingly out of range, as of now, the Indian gymnast is targeting a return to form at next year’s Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.