EXCLUSIVE || “I Missed Being on the Mat Every Single Day”: Dipa Karmakar  

It was July 12, and the Asian Games Gymnastic trials had just concluded at the newly established High Performance Centre in the Kalinga Stadium precinct in Bhubaneshwar. Dipa Karmakar, making a comeback after a 21-month ban, was the cynosure of all eyes. She performed well and topped the trials, and was understandably elated at the opportunity to represent India in Hangzhou.

I was at the stadium, and pleased to see her perform. Soon after the event was over, we had a chat. “I am very happy to be on the mat again,” she told me. “Coming back is like getting my life back.” While she wasn’t completely injury-free or at her best, it was evident that Dipa had done enough to ignite interest. She was India’s best bet for Hangzhou. “I will train the hardest over the next two months and give it my best,” she said. “I am sure God will be with me.” Bisheshwar Nandi, her coach and Dronacharya awardee, also sounded hopeful. “It is a good comeback,” he said. “She is hungry and is working hard. The signs are all good and she will be ready for China.” Everything seemed to be going well, and Dipa was back.

Less than a month later, things have changed. Dipa is not sure if she will get the opportunity to represent the country in China. Under an existing regulation, it could well be that she misses out despite topping the trials. The Federation, it is evident, is not happy. Her coaches are all shocked and have already said so publicly. “The best should represent India,” said Nandi. “Gymnastics is a technical sport, and the team should be chosen based on current performance. We have selected the best team to represent India, and only the best should go to China.”

As per the existing provision, which says that competition results over the previous two years will be taken into account, Dipa could miss out. While serving the ban, there was no option for her to compete. “Things are different in gymnastics,” says Nandi. “You don’t go by what happened two years earlier. It is about current form, and whoever is in the best form has been chosen.”

With uncertainty hanging over her head like a cloud, Dipa spoke to me after training on Tuesday evening. It was evident that she was tense and anxious.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Boria: I have seen the video you put out. It is clear from the video that you are anxious and depressed. I don’t think all is lost yet, so why are you losing hope? I think the Sports Ministry will surely see things in perspective, and send the best team. See what Sports Minister Anurag Thakur did with football. He was proactive and has taken the right call. I am sure he will do the same.

Dipa: I just want to appeal to the ministry and the Sports Authority of India to give me an opportunity. I can assure you and everyone in India that I am training the hardest, and will give it my best in China. Playing for India is an honour, and I am aware of the responsibilities it involves. All I want to say is the best should be given an opportunity to go to China, and that if I am sent, I will not disappoint my country.


Boria: Tell me a little about training.

Dipa: I am training six hours a day. And daily. Since the trials, I have trained every single day under Nandi Sir and, as you know, I am very excited to wear the Indian jersey again. I missed out on competing for my country for two years and was injured for a while. Now all things seem to be back on track, and I am feeling good again. You were here for the trials, and have seen that I was putting in the best effort. That’s what I can promise. There will be no dearth of effort on my part, and all I need is one opportunity to do something for India.

Boria: Dipa, I don’t think the matter is closed yet. So, I would suggest you stay positive and not get depressed.

Dipa: Gymnastics is my life, and for two years, I wasn’t able to do what I love doing. I missed being on the mat every single day. It is difficult to tell you what it means to an athlete to not be able to compete for the country. When I played in Rio, you know what it meant to me. I was doing a vault which was life-threatening. But it was never an issue because it was an opportunity to do something for India. For us, that’s the most important thing. To get an opportunity to make our country proud. I have been given one more chance at the Asian Games. I managed to top the trials and get picked. That’s all I am craving for. To get the opportunity to represent India in Hangzhou. I want to appeal to the ministry and to the Sports Authority of India to send India’s best team. It is not about me. If I am not good enough, I will never ask for an opportunity. That’s all I am trying to say. 

Clearly, as G Rajaraman has written on these pages, it is fair to expect that India’s best team will be sent to China. And on merit, Dipa is the best we have. That was proved at the trials, and hence, it is only fair that she gets one more opportunity.

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