The Leap of Faith

“Dipa never had a foam pit to train on. She would stack up used karate mats to train.”  Soma Nandi who first coached Dipa Karmakar speaks exclusively to Ourstories. Dipankar Sengupta catches up with Soma Nandi, Dipa Karmakar’s first coachin Agartala.

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A dozen kids practicing on the parallel bar in Vivekananda Bayamagar (established in 1947), in Agartala in the eastern Indian state of Tripura where Dipa Karmakar started her journey. They are super excited and proud to be where the new poster girl of Indian sports learnt her first tricks.

Dipa is the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Olympics but she is already a world champion on the vault.

People are getting to know about Dipa and her audacious coach Bisheshwar Nandi who loves taking risks but it was Bisheshwar’s wife Soma Nandi who first spotted Dipa and started training when she was 5 years old. Soma is a SAI gymnastic coach in Tripura.

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“In the beginning I did not think she would make it to the Olympics. I noticed her talent but didn’t see her going so far.” Soma Nandi isecstatic over Dipa’s success. “Dipa is like my daughter. The moment I heard she did it I felt like I should rush to her in Brazil . ”

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Soma recalled how Dipa went through her training:

“One can’t imagine doing practice stacking up old karate-mats that Dipa did and still does. Produnova vault is a very risky vault, only three women in the world perform, and  Dipa  is  the only  one amongst them who learnt it without a foam-pit. That is incredible. She has to rely on the equipment which are at all not reliable.  American favourite  SimoneBiles  does only 15/16 vault attempt in a week, and Dipa does the same vault for 127 times in a week , even so she cannot  attain the perfection the American girl  attains because of the equipment she  gets to use. Dipa is becoming more known outside than in India. There where she goes, people call  her  ‘Hey! Produnova girl ‘for the difficult vault she attempts. But here still she is not equipped with a foam-pit. Imagine. Even sponsors are not with her. She has to wait for her turn to be in Delhi for practice sessions, and this too is happening after Delhi Commonwealth games. Yes the state government helps her a lot, like they manage air-tickets for national events, etc”

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Dipa’s father Dulal Karmakar, also a coach with SAI has been pleading about better infrastructure:

“Time and again we have been demanding for proper equipment like foam-pit. We also met Chief Minister Manik Sarkar after she won a bronze in London.  He assured us a foam-pit; however, it’s yet to come.”

If logistics is not the only worry then it is sports administration that ruins careers of sports persons in India. Dipa’s father didn’t mince words:

“Dipa was very worried recently and it hampered her practice because of the tug-of-war between two factions of Gymnastic Federation of India. Both wanted Dipa to perform under their banner, or else they threatened not to send her nomination to the qualifying round in Brazil for the Olympics. Later SAI stepped in.”

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Tripura may have done very well in governance but certainly not in sports promotion. It took Dipa a string of international awards to get a job offer of a physical Instructor but on fixed pay basis with an amount her father preferred not to mention. She was later promoted as sports officer of lower grade after she made it at Glasgow as first Indian to be in World Gymnastic Championship. But Dipa just couldn’t care and wouldn’t give up. She always wanted to be the best in the world.

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