Tripura girl Dipa creates history

1st gymnast qualifies for Rio Games

By Sekhar Datta and agencies in Agartala
  • Published 19.04.16
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Dipa Karmakar performs on the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics test event for the 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. (AFP)

Agartala, April 18: She was born on a historic date - August 9, when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India movement in 1942 - and now she had made history.

Tripura's Dipa Karmakar, born in 1993, has become the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the Rio Olympics.

The 22-year-old garnered a total score of 52.698 points in the Olympics qualifying event. Apart from being the first Indian woman, she will also be an Indian gymnast qualifying for the Olympics after 52 years.

Dipa had won bronze medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and in artistic gymnastics at the Asian championship in Hiroshima in 2015, besides being five times national champion.

Accolades poured in with cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar leading the sports fraternity in praising her for the historic feat. Tendulkar said her achievement would inspire the youth of the country.

Within hours of her qualification, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) included her in the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) Scheme, the government's initiative to fund Olympic medal prospects in their preparations for the Games.

Union sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal congratulated Dipa for taking Indian gymnastics to a high.

"Many congratulations for taking Indian gymnastics to a new high. Dipa Karmakar, we are so proud of you," Sonowal wrote on his official twitter handle.

Other cricket stalwarts like Virender Sehwag and V.V.S. Laxman also saluted her.

Five-time chess world champion Viswanathan Anand tweeted: "Congrats dipa kamarkar... There's a first for everything. Hope many more firsts come your way."

Media chairman of the Indian Olympic Association, Durgadas Boro, said, "This indeed is a proud moment for the Northeast. This time, two from the Northeast have qualified for the Rio Olympics and they both are first to qualify in their respective fields. That itself is significant for this region. Gymnastics is a very tough discipline and in the Olympics the competition is very tough. So the fact that she has made it this far in itself is very credible."

Assam's Shiva Thapa was the first boxer to qualify from India for the Rio Games. Manipur's champion boxer M.C. Mary Kom has another chance to qualify during the World Championships to be held in May.

Ace shooter Abhinav Bindra, who himself is Rio-bound, said, "Many congratulations to Dipa Karmakar for being a pathbreaker and making it to Rio."

Dipa's father Dulal Karmakar, a SAI coach for weightlifting, said he had hoped his daughter would make it to the Rio Olympics and today's news has come as a major boost for the family. "She was confident all along and worked hard with coach Bishweshwar Nandi; still there was a lingering doubt in my mind because gymnastics at the highest level is very competitive," he said.

Dipa's mother Gita Karmakar, a homemaker, was more effusive in her expression of thanks and gratitude to goddess Tripureshwari. "I have been constantly praying for her and I knew Dipa would ultimately succeed. Now that she has qualified for the Olympics I will pray so that she can win a medal," her mother said.

Tripura's minister for sports and youth programme Shahid Chowdhury expressed joy over Dipa's feat and attributed this to her and her coach's hard work. "Qualifying for the Olympics itself is a great achievement but still our joy will know no bounds if a medal comes her way," Chowdhury said.

India's first medal winner in an international gymnastics competition and the country's first Arjuna award winner in sports, Mantu Debnath, said Dipa's success would give a major boost to gymnastics in the country. A seven-time national champion in gymnastics, Debnath said securing a berth in the Olympics itself is "a very major achievement. As a former gymnast and now a SAI coach, I know how difficult it is; Dipa has actually worked a wonder," Debnath said.

Dipa's success sparked jubilation here in her hometown with people in Abhay Nagar celebrating with fireworks. "We would have actually taken out a procession with her garlanded photograph but today is Tripura bandh, so we have celebrated only with fireworks; the procession will be organised after she returns home," B.K. Chakraborty, secretary of Abhay Nagar Boys Club, said.

Chakraborty recalled how Dipa was initiated into gymnastics at the age of six. "The initial hurdle that she had to cross was her flat foot, which restricted her springing action, so essential to gymnastics. But her coach Bishweshwar Nandi gradually got her in shape through practice," Chakraborty said.

Additional reporting by Avishek Sengupta in Guwahati