Despite winning return from injury, Dipa Karmakar knows Asian Games will be a stiffer challenge

The 24-year-old may have to score close to 15.000 to finish on the podium in Jakarta.

Dipa Karmakar was out of competitive action ever since she took the gymnastics world by storm with a fourth-placed finish at the Rio Olympics in 2016. She had suffered an Anterior Cruciate Ligament injury soon after Rio and was out of action for almost two years, but was expected to make a comeback at the Commonwealth Games in April this year.

But when she pulled out of the Gold Coast Games at the last minute, doubts were raised about whether she would be back to peak fitness before the Asian Games or even miss the quadrennial event. After all, an ACL injury also needs a player to recover mentally and not just physically to be able to performe at their optimal level.

Late last month, Karmakar allied all these fears by topping the Asian Games selection trials in New Delhi. She then raised hopes of an entire nation on Sunday when she won the gold medal in her first international competition in two years at the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup in Mersin, Turkey.

Faith in coach

The gold medal, India’s second in an FIG event, apart the podium-topping performance of 14.150, may not be something to crow about in the overall context of the competition she is likely to face at the Asian Games. But if one looks back at the two years since her fourth-placed finish at the Rio Olympics, this performance would be a major confidence booster for her and coach Bishweshwar Nandi.

The 24-year-old, who suffered an ACL injury in training soon after the Olympics and underwent a reconstruction surgery in April last year, had made all the right noises during her interactions with the media about making a strong comeback.

“Mentally, I was not affected. But, yes, it was very tough because I was performing well and I had to immediately drop the apparatus and only focus on rehab,” she had told journalists on the sidelines of the GoSports Foundation Conclave back in December 2017.

But those close to her were well aware of the challenges in bringing those words into reality, and the fears she would have to overcome before taking that first leap of faith.

Mind you, an ACL surgery makes the person push their pain threshold exponentially during the rehabilitation period. The injury can also keep playing at the back of your mind irrespective of the quality of rehab and the confidence-building exercise by those around you.

Karmakar began her rehab within a fortnight of going under the knife but it took her over an year to finally make those daring runs and fly off the vault in competition.

This is where, probably, Karmakar’s bond with coach Nandi came in handy. Normally, a sportsperson is eager to get back to competition to try and put behind the pain of injury and prove to themselves that they can find a way out as soon as possible.

In Karmakar’s case, she has been extremely patient. Though she had started training at the start of the year, she pulled out of the Commonwealth Games in April as her coach felt that she wasn’t ready and the player simply accepted the decision.

Sports Authority of India psychologist Bhavana Chouhan, who works with the gymnasts, admits that the coach has been a pillar of strength for the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian championship bronze medalist, and no one else is allowed to be part of that space.

It was this faith in her coach that made Karmakar a star in world gymnastics as she attempted the dangerous Produnova in Glasgow to clinch a medal four years ago. The handspring double front vault has always been considered the most dangerous routine in gymnastic circles. And when one considered that Karmakar first accepted the coach’s suggestion of working on this new routine without even having a foam pit at her training centre back home in Agartala, it simply shows the trust she had in her mentor who has been working with her since she was six years old.

Bigger challenges ahead

With the difficulty level of her favoured Produnova vault cut from 7 to 6.4, a recovering Karmakar has decided to skip the routine for a more conservative Handspring and Tsukuhara, in which execution is the key.

Karmakar, who also made it to the final of the balance beam, and Nandi would be extremely happy on that front as she crossed the 8-point mark in Turkey. It showed that the 24-year-old has completely recovered from the injury. But the real challenge for her lies in the next five weeks as the 2014 Asian Games bronze medallist would know that finishing on the podium in Jakarta won’t be an easy task.

Despite the advantage of Produnova in Incheon 2014, Karmakar had still failed to bag a medal and she may have to score close to 15.000 to finish on the podium as at least two Japanese have crossed that mark in the last one year, while a couple of Chinese gymnasts have touched 14.500 in various competitions.

It is clear that she is unlikely to risk going for the Produnova with her knee still needing some more time to settle down, as the landing in that variation puts tremendous pressure on the joints. But she would definitely increase the difficulty level in Jakarta to Handspring 540 and Tsukuhara 900 as against Handspring 360 and Tsukuhara 720 that she attempted in Turkey to win the gold medal.

Whether she can manage to pull off those routines to perfection and bag a medal in Jakarta or not, the performance in Turkey has proved that the only Indian gymnast to participate in the Olympics final is well and truly back and should be at her best by the time 2020 Tokyo Games arrive.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

People who fall through the gaps in road safety campaigns

Helmet and road safety campaigns might have been neglecting a sizeable chunk of the public at risk.

City police, across the country, have been running a long-drawn campaign on helmet safety. In a recent initiative by the Bengaluru Police, a cop dressed-up as ‘Lord Ganesha’ offered helmets and roses to two-wheeler riders. Earlier this year, a 12ft high and 9ft wide helmet was installed in Kota as a memorial to the victims of road accidents. As for the social media leg of the campaign, the Mumbai Police made a pop-culture reference to drive the message of road safety through their Twitter handle.

But, just for the sake of conversation, how much safety do helmets provide anyway?

Lack of physical protections put two-wheeler riders at high risk on the road. According to a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Nearly half of those dying on the world’s roads are ‘vulnerable road users’ – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. According to the Indian transport ministry, about 28 two-wheeler riders died daily on Indian roads in 2016 for not wearing helmets.

The WHO states that wearing a motorcycle helmet correctly can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%. The components of a helmet are designed to reduce impact of a force collision to the head. A rigid outer shell distributes the impact over a large surface area, while the soft lining absorbs the impact.

However, getting two-wheeler riders to wear protective headgear has always been an uphill battle, one that has intensified through the years owing to the lives lost due on the road. Communication tactics are generating awareness about the consequences of riding without a helmet and changing behaviour that the law couldn’t on its own. But amidst all the tag-lines, slogans and get-ups that reach out to the rider, the safety of the one on the passenger seat is being ignored.

Pillion rider safety has always been second in priority. While several state governments are making helmets for pillion riders mandatory, the lack of awareness about its importance runs deep. In Mumbai itself, only 1% of the 20 lakh pillion riders wear helmets. There seems to be this perception that while two-wheeler riders are safer wearing a helmet, their passengers don’t necessarily need one. Statistics prove otherwise. For instance, in Hyderabad, the Cyberabad traffic police reported that 1 of every 3 two-wheeler deaths was that of a pillion rider. DGP Chander, Goa, stressed that 71% of fatalities in road accidents in 2017 were of two-wheeler rider and pillion riders of which 66% deaths were due to head injury.

Despite the alarming statistics, pillion riders, who are as vulnerable as front riders to head-injuries, have never been the focus of helmet awareness and safety drives. To fill-up that communication gap, Reliance General Insurance has engineered a campaign, titled #FaceThePace, that focusses solely on pillion rider safety. The campaign film tells a relatable story of a father taking his son for cricket practice on a motorbike. It then uses cricket to bring our attention to a simple flaw in the way we think about pillion rider safety – using a helmet to play a sport makes sense, but somehow, protecting your head while riding on a two-wheeler isn’t considered.

This road safety initiative by Reliance General Insurance has taken the lead in addressing the helmet issue as a whole — pillion or front, helmets are crucial for two-wheeler riders. The film ensures that we realise how selective our worry about head injury is by comparing the statistics of children deaths due to road accidents to fatal accidents on a cricket ground. Message delivered. Watch the video to see how the story pans out.


To know more about Reliance general insurance policies, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Reliance General Insurance and not by the Scroll editorial team.