Exclusive interview with gymnast Dipa Karmarkar on upcoming Asian Games
It was Ashish Kumar who brought Indian gymnastics on the international sporting landscape, picking up a bronze and silver in the 2010 Commonwealth Games and a bronze in the 2010 Asian Games. Four years later, Dipa Karmarkar gave women gymnasts plenty to look forward to by winning a bronze medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Even as the odds were stacked against her given the warring factions in Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) and lack of international exposure, the 21-year-old Tripura girl managed to rise above with a stellar performance in Glasgow.With a medal in her kitty, Dipa is now keen to better her CWG performance in the upcoming Incheon Asian Games.
We caught up with the talented athlete for her thoughts on competition, winning and development of gymnastics in India.
How does it feel when you know that you are the first Indian woman gymnast to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games?
Bahut accha lagta hai (feels really good)! I cannot describe in words how I felt winning the bronze medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. I nearly missed the silver by a whisker, but even then I’m pretty chuffed with the way I performed in Glasgow given that I started the proceedings on a sluggish note and had plenty of catching up to do.
You are nursing an ankle injury – have you recuperated fully from that?
I’m getting better and better with each day and hope I will be able to perform at my best in the upcoming Incheon Asian Games. It’s important for me not to carry any niggles into the event and stay fit as a fiddle. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and training hard for a medal in Incheon.
How would you assess the competitiveness flavour of the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Do you think the Incheon Games will be your biggest challenge?
Look, I believe both Commonwealth Games and Asian Games offer stiff competition as you have formidable gymnasts from Australia, England and Canada in the former and redoubtable gymnasts from China, Korea and Japan in the latter. Getting a medal at both these events is a challenge and I want to improve on my bronze in Glasgow with at least a silver or gold in Incheon. I don’t think a podium finish is beyond me and I’m geared up for the challenge.
Is there a sense of satisfaction that your bronze medal effort in Glasgow is going to trigger a wave of popularity for gymnastics in India and encourage young girls to take up the sport?
Absolutely! I myself want to do whatever I can to help young girls take up gymnastics seriously. I’m confident that my performance in Glasgow must have emboldened many to pick up gymnastics as a sport. It was Ashish bhai (Kumar) who injected hope in the sport when he became the first Indian gymnast to win a Commonwealth and Asian Games medal in 2010. I think the sport is making the right noises in India.
There is always never-ending talk of infrastructure not being adequate for the sport to flourish in India. Your thoughts on the issue?
There is room for better infrastructure in India, although things are not bad at the moment. For example, foam pit, which can ensure athletes are injury-free is not available all over India. At the moment, foam pit is available in places like Delhi, Allahabad, Mumbai among a few others. The sport will get a big boost in India if foam pit is provided across India as players can train hard without the fear of getting injured.
Tell us about the cash rewards handed out to you after your bronze medal effort in Glasgow.
I received a cash award of Rs. 6 lakh from the central government and Rs. 5 lakh from the GFI. Such recognition helps us to stay motivated and spur athletes like us to achieve more glory for the country in the future.
Your coach Bisheshwar Nandi has been a huge influence on your playing career. What’s your take?
Bisheshwar Sir gets all the credit for whatever I have been able to achieve for India. I have been training with him for last 11-12 years and without him I wouldn’t have able to attain what I have today. He is a great coach, motivator and always ensures I keep raising the performance bar and never get complacent.
Your father, Dulal Karmarkar, was a weightlifter and is now a weightlifting coach at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Tripura. How come you did not take up weightlifting?
Just that my dad loved to pursue weightlifting while I had a liking for gymnastics and so pursued it (grins).