India's Karmakar to go for broke at Rio with Produnova
NEW DELHI (AP) It's a dangerous maneuver, with the risk of catastrophic injury just a slip of the hand away. And so it has the maximum rating for degree of difficulty, which makes it the vault of choice for Dipa Karmakar.
Nothing has ever come easily to India's now-favorite gymnast, and that instilled the kind of attitude that makes her one of only five women who have ever tried the Produnova in competition.
It's also what helped Karmakar become the first Indian woman to qualify for the Olympic gymnastics competition, an achievement which has captured imaginations in the nation of 1.2 billion.
The 22-year-old Karmakar said she started practicing the Produnova -a double-frontal vault introduced by Russia's Elena Produnova in the 1990s - in early 2014 and performed it in July that year at the Commonwealth Games.
''I knew I would get a medal if I pulled it off,'' she said, reflecting on the bronze medal performance. She followed that up with fifth place at the 2015 world championships, where her Produnova was the most daring routine on the vault. A test event in Rio de Janeiro this year put her firmly into the Indian sporting spotlight when she qualified for the Olympics.
''Once I won the Commonwealth Games medal my next target was always the Olympics,'' she said during a recent interview at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi, where filming or photographing her practice session was strictly off limits. ''I'm the first Indian woman to qualify, so expectations are high.''
Karmakar is trying to keep her own expectations in check, saying she's aiming for a personal best rather than focusing on the color of a medal.
''I'm trying to put pressure on vaulting, I'm trying to get to perfection on the two vaults that I have learnt recently,'' she said. ''The thing is I want to get better marks from what I have got so far, that is my target.''
Karmakar has overcome the odds stacked against her, including flat feet that took months of work and visits to sports science experts to condition for elite competition. She's from the far-flung northeastern state of Tripura, which is bordered on three sides by Bangladesh and does not have a sporting culture.
When her father, Dulal Karmakar, a weightlifting coach, suggested she had the energy and the build for gymnastics, the local facilities for practice were old and far from state-of-the-art.
''We just don't have any infrastructure over there, especially when I started off during my childhood,'' Karmakar said. ''All the equipment we had then was (made in) India ... not good for learning any jumps which had a great difficulty.
''I was lucky I had a great coach, who helped me learn all the basics that one needed about vaults ... he prepared me so well.''
It was her coach, Biswaswar Nandi, who helped design the exercises to remedy her flat feet and who guided her into the international competition arena.
Nandi said he saw very early the makings of a committed and fierce competitor, noting Karmakar was always willing to take on senior gymnasts.
''She can be very stubborn and that is what I've tried to leverage,'' Nandi said. ''She takes up challenges, wants to take up difficult routines. She wants to put in that extra hour every day. Her body gets tired but her mind does not.''
Nandi said Karmakar is never worried about difficult routines, instead focusing on the technicalities of how to achieve the routine and fixing whatever she may be doing wrong.
''The same was with the Produnova vault - she went for it despite the difficulty and the risks,'' he said.
Success has led to some extra funding for equipment, with the Sports Authority of India providing her a foam pit for practice. She's hoping it will give broader appeal to the sport and encourage another generation of gymnasts.
''A lot has changed over the last decade. Reaching the final at the World championship is a big achievement for an Indian because there is more competition there than even at the Olympics,'' she said. ''This time one gymnast has qualified for the Olympics. Next time at Tokyo 2020, it's possible that 4-5 will.''
For now, she is working on what she does best.
''Practice makes perfect and I do the Produnova every day,'' Karmakar said. ''I even watch the original routine by Elena Produnova practically every day. One can get injured any time - anything can happen. But we have to take the risks,'' to stand out from the pack.