Gymnast Dipa Karmakar became a darling of Indian sports lovers when the girl from Tripura surprised everyone by finishing fourth in the Rio Olympics and missed a bronze medal in vault by a few decimal points.
The discussion around Karmakar and her dangerous Produnova, also called the Vault of Death for the degree of difficulty that could lead to a broken neck, had started way before when the Indian won the Olympics Test event in the same arena to become the first women gymnast from her country to make it to the quadrennial event.
What made Karmakar’s feat all the more special is the fact that only five women in the history of world gymnastics have successfully landed the vault, first successfully attempted by Russia’s Yelena Produnova in the 1999 Universiade Games and hence has been named after her.
Though Karmakar missed out on a medal in Rio, she earned a lot of plaudits for her effort in Brazil. But her first real attempt at Produnova, which not only took the gymnastic world by surprise but also made her the first Indian woman gymnast to win the Commonwealth Games medal back in 2014.
Karmakar had made it to the vault final even in the 2010 Commonwealth Games at home but a mistake on the first attempt on home turf had meant that she was nowhere near a medal position.
Even in Glasgow, the Tripura gymnast had not really set the stage ablaze in the all-round qualification event. She had attempted the Produnova for the first time to make it to the last eight but had not managed the landing correctly, injuring her ankle in the bargain.
She had been on painkillers since then and no one was really sure how things would pan out in the finals. Her first vault wasn’t anything sensational as she managed to score just 13.633 and was last in the overall standings.
So when she lined up for her second vault with the screen showing a difficulty level of 7.0, even the commentators could not help but gasp at the audacity of the Indian gymnast.
The commentators, while pointing out the reason behind the difficulty level and how the vault hasn’t been attempted at the highest level in 20 years, hoped that Karmakar lands on her feet and not on her neck.
She launched into her run-up, picked up speed with every stride and completed two full rotations while in the air to land on her feet.
“She made it. she made it..... An inch between her and the mats, definitely feet first,” said the commentators exclaimed as she landed.
Karmakar and coach Bishweshwar Nandi waited for the scores to flash on the big screen but the Indian camp was already celebrating by the time the score read 15.100, the highest score by a gymnast attempting a Produnova.
The score put Karmakar into the second position with just one more gymnast left, assuring her of a medal. England’s Claudia Fragapane, who was next, clinched the gold with a total score of 14.633 and pushed the Indian a spot lower in the standings. But history was created at Glasgow’s Hydro Arena that day.
Later, speaking to the media, coach Nandi had explained that the idea to attempt the Produnova had brushed his mind a few months before the Commonwealth Games and he was looking for a vault routine that will give Karmakar a definite advantage over her competitors.
He had seen men gymnasts perform a Produnova and discussed it with senior coaches who felt that it was felt to be too dangerous.
But Karmakar was determined to do try what her coach suggested and went all out training for the dangerous vault and pulled it off the delight of the coach and everyone in the stadium.
The Produnova went on to become Karmakar’s signature vault in the next two years and she nearly pulled off a medal-winning performance in Rio with an average score of 15.066, the Vault of Death fetching her 15.266 points.
Since then, Karmakar has been laid low by a career-threatening knee injury and has to also look for another vault as the International Gymnastic Federation has decided to reduce the difficulty level of the vault to 6.4 so as to dissuade athletes from attempting the routine.
Karmakar has insisted that she would still perform the Produnova whenever needed after fully recovering from the injury, which almost put paid to her chances of making it to the Tokyo Olympics. It remains to be seen whether the 26-year-old can regain her form and qualify for the Games, which were postponed to next year due the coronavirus pandemic.
You can watch her CWG performance here: