It has now been a year since the Rio Olympics, in which India’s blushes were saved by shuttler PV Sindhu, who won the silver, and wrestler Sakshi Malik, who got a bronze via repechage. The two medallists were not, however, the only success stories coming out of Rio for India. One of them was a diminutive young gymnast from Tripura, Dipa Karmakar.

India could so easily have had a third medallist in Karmakar, but the gymnast lost out on the bronze by 0.15 scoring points. Karmakar came fourth in the vault final but her achievement felt like so much more considering the struggles she had gone through to get there. Hailing from one of the remotest parts of the country, she had to make do with discarded second-hand equipment, irregular-sized landing mats and even a makeshift vault made out of old scooter parts.

Rio 2016 has changed all that. Today, Karmakar is perhaps one of India’s biggest medal hopes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. An anterior cruciate ligament tear in her right knee and subsequent surgery has meant that she hasn’t been able to compete at all since Rio, but with her rehabilitation nearing its end, it won’t be long before the world gets to see more of India’s star gymnast.

The Field caught up with Dipa Karmakar a year after Rio, to find out how her life has changed.

I was very determined to continue performing well after Rio, but unfortunately I suffered an ACL tear and had to undergo surgery in April. I have since been in rehab and thus have not been able to compete at all after Rio.

The last year has therefore been really bad for me. I missed the Asian Championships and the World Championships because of the injury. It hasn’t been such a good time but this is part of a sportsperson’s life. Getting injured is a part of being an athlete and you can’t do anything about it. 

It was a bad time but my coach [Bishweshwar Nandi] took care of me and helped me get through it. My physiotherapist also made me do specific exercises to deal with an ACL injury and also helped keep my whole body fit. The rehabilitation is going well and I hope to resume training in a couple of months. I have been training for seven hours a day even during the rehab.

After my performance at the Rio Olympics, there has been a huge change in India in terms of gymnastics. There have been so many budding gymnasts who have come through and are targeting an Olympic spot. Infrastructure has also improved leaps and bounds. A new gym was built in Kolkata and we have got all the best equipment. The Indira Gandhi Stadium in Delhi, where I am currently training, is also developing. 

My life has also changed in a big way. Before Rio, not many Indians had even heard of Tripura, or gymnastics, or even me. Now they know all three.

My biggest learning from my experience in Rio is that discipline is very important for an athlete, as is listening to coaches. Recently, I had the chance to interact with the legendary Nadia Comaneci at an event and that was a dream come true. Nadia appreciated the fact that I had come from such a small town and participated in the Olympics. She even told me she had watched me at the Olympics and praised my effort. I was thrilled that Nadia Comaneci, the queen of gymnastics, praised me. It was a huge thing for me.

After my rehab is over, I will begin training for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in April next year. My coach and I are discussing a new vault, the Handspring 540, which like the Produnova is quite difficult. If I can perform it with perfection I am sure I can win a medal at the Commonwealth Games. I am also keeping track of what my rivals are doing but only my coach will decide my next move.

— As told to Jaideep Vaidya

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