What we can learn from Olympics finalist and pride of India Dipa Karmakar

By Sharika Nair|15th Aug 2016
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It was an electrifying moment when Indians around the world were on their feet cheering for the 23-year-old from Tripura as she ran to the vaulting horse for the finals of the individual vault event in artistic gymnastics at Rio Olympics 2016. Dipa scored 14.866 on her first vault and 15.266 for her second vault, the Produnova. She fought with talent and poise against world champion gymnasts. She was placed fourth with an average of 15.066. Dipa’s performance may not have been enough to win her a medal, but it made billion hopes rise tonight. Everyone cheered their heart out. Dipa has made the whole nation proud today and the scope of her achievement is much beyond the medal she missed by 0.15 points.

dipa karmakar final rio olympics


Dipa Karmakar had already notched up achievement after achievement to her name — the first Indian female gymnast to qualify for the Olympics and the first to qualify for a final, the first Indian female gymnast to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games (when she won the bronze in 2014), and one of five women in the world to successfully land the Produnova, the most difficult vault currently performed in women’s gymnastics. She also won a bronze medal at the Asian Gymnastics Championships and finished fifth at the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, both firsts for India. With her performance at the Rio Olympics, she has catapulted (literally) her career to the top while also becoming the nation’s favourite daughter.

However, what has won hearts and fans more than the number of medals or the records broken by Dipa is her pleasant personality, equanimity in times of stress, and confidence in the global spotlight. There is much we can all learn from this young woman.

Everybody sees the glory, very few see the sweat

Countless hours, days, months, and years spent training at her gym in Agartala have led Dipa to this day. When this young gymnast started training as a child, she shad to sacrifice much of the simple joys of a normal childhood at the altar of her dreams. But of course, now that she has achieved the glory, it all seems worth it.

What seems impossible often isn’t so

Dipa’s coach Bishweshwar Nandi has spoken about how Dipa had flat feet as a child and had to work doubly hard as compared to other children to get her feet to arch. Hailing from a country where sportsmen and women do not get financial support or proper equipment and training facilities, Dipa’s struggles were just beginning. Dipa had requested the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to allow her to travel to Rio de Janeiro with her longtime physio Sajad Ahmad, but her request was refused and she was questioned on why she needed a physio since she was the only gymnast travelling. Considering the high risk of injuries in gymnastics, these kind of experiences reek of the apathy of bureaucratic officials towards our sportspeople. But rising above all these hurdles, Dipa proved that with determination, nothing is impossible.

Calculated risks pay off

The Produnova vault named after Russian gymnast Yelena Produnova is known as the ‘vault of death’. World champion and Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles, on being asked if she would attempt the Produnova had said, “I’m not trying to die.” France’s Samir Aït Said had suffered a horrific double fracture during his attempt at the vault just a few days previously, but the difficulty level of the Produnova and thereby the opportunity to score higher points led Dipa and her coach to take up this vault. This routine involves running up to the vault, taking off with a handspring and completing two somersaults mid-air and then managing to land on the feet. Dipa’s confident execution of this manoeuvre has won her the admiration of other participants and the world media.


Be a big fish in a big pond

Since 2007, Dipa has won 77 medals, including 67 gold, in state, national, and international championships, but it took the Olympics to get the nation to notice her. In a world where intense competitiveness is the norm, one needs to be a big fish in a big pond.

Keeping a cool head is important

After making to the final, Dipa had said,

There is so much cheering today. There is a huge difference between April (qualifying round) and now. When I qualified here in the test event, the stands were empty. This is the first time in my life I have performed before such a humongous crowd. The crowd was so loud that I couldn’t hear the music. It was a great experience!

Even in the high pressure situation of the final, Dipa had the one attribute that all successful people have — keeping her composure.

Appreciation from peers is extra special

Dipa said,

The Produnova has made me famous across the world. Simone Biles walked up to me today and wished me luck before the competition. I was over the moon. When an athlete as big as Biles walks up to you, you are doing something right.

Earning the respect of one’s peers is difficult but extremely satisfying. By staying focused and playing by the rules, it is possible to set aside rivalry and have mutual respect for one’s associates.

It’s good to have a mentor to keep you grounded

Coach Bishweshwar Nandi had put Dipa under mock house arrest at the Olympic Games village ahead of the vault finals. Her 23rd birthday was on August 9 but she was allowed to receive birthday wishes only from her parents. “I have removed the SIM card from her cell phone. I don’t want her to lose focus,” he said. On the precipice of success, it is good to have a friend, partner, parent, or mentor who keeps you grounded.

Live the moment

Dipa often looks like a child on a picnic and there is no doubt that she is enjoying her Olympic journey. It is great to work hard and stay committed to one’s goals, but not to the extent that the journey loses meaning and only the destination matters.

Plan for bigger stakes

Dipa is not resting on her laurels. She has already spoken about training for gold in the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Her primary focus is going to be Tokyo Olympics 2020. Game changers never get complacent and Dipa Karmakar has proven that she is a game changer.

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