She was flat-footed, a big no-no for gymnasts. A medical test was conducted on her foot, which ruled her out of gymnastics. But her coach Bisweshwar Nandi, a prolific gymnast himself and a 5-time national champion, thought otherwise and knew Dipa had enormous talent.
Dipa Karmakar became a national sensation after becoming India’s first female gymnast to compete at the Olympic Games, and the first Indian gymnast to do so in 52 years. She came tantalizingly close to winning a medal at the Rio Olympics but missed out by just 0.15 of a point. In her second vault, Dipa landed the Produnova, which is often described as “vault of death”. Named after Russia’s Elena Produnova, who first performed it in 1999, the move has been performed successfully by only five people in the world, including Dipa Karmakar. Outrightly rejecting to perform this vault, American World champion Simone Biles had said: “I’m not trying to die.”
Dipa Karmakar was born on 9th August 1993 in Agartala, Tripura. Her father Dulal Karmakar is a weightlifting coach with the SAI while her mother is a housewife. Hailing from one of India’s remotest part, the gymnastic training facilities were far from world class. Bisweshwar Nandi, her coach, had to create a springboard using parts of an old scooter and stack several crash mats on top of each other to make a vault, fastening it with ropes so that it didn’t shake. This makeshift gymnasium setup is where Dipa trained tirelessly, perfecting tactically difficult vaults like the Produnova.
Dipa completed her schooling from Abhoynagar Nazrul Smriti Vidhyalaya and then joined the Tripura Women’s College where she completed her Bachelor of Arts in History, Political Science and Education. She then went on to pursue her Masters in Political Science from Tripura University. Her first major initial success came in 2008 when she won 3 golds and 2 silver medals at the Junior Nationals in Jalpaiguri. Since 2007, Dipa has won 77 medals, including 67 gold, in the state, national and international championships. In July, at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Dipa won a bronze medal in the women’s vault final, thanks largely to her Produnova vault. She is the first Indian woman to win a Commonwealth Games gymnastics medal, and the second Indian overall, after Ashish Kumar won in 2010 Commonwealth Games
Dipa was deservedly awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in 2016 followed Padma Shri, the fourth highest Indian national honor, in 2017. In the same year, she also featured in the Forbes’ list of super achievers from Asia under the age of 30.
Today, Dipa Karmakar is perhaps one of India’s biggest medal hopes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “I promise that in the next Olympics in Tokyo, I would bring the laurel for you. This is my promise and I would work hard for it.” Dipa was quoted as saying. Gymnastics and India, until about a couple of years ago, these two terms would never have found mention in the same sentence. This pocket-sized dynamo has changed it all. She has been largely responsible for the increased popularity of gymnastics in India. Dipa Karmakar is India’s new sporting legend.