Dipa Karmakar has come a long way from home.
On Aug. 07, the 22-year-old from Tripura made history in Rio de Janeiro as the first Indian gymnast to qualify for the women’s vault finals at the Olympics. Karmakar came in eighth after performing one of the most advanced gymnastic feats: the Produnova vault, otherwise known as the “vault of death.”
Named after Russia’s Elena Produnova, who first performed it in 1999, the feat has only ever been executed successfully by five gymnasts around the world, including Karmakar. With a front handspring and two front somersaults, it’s an extremely dangerous routine that most gymnasts dread.
But Karmakar is not just any other gymnast.
Beating the odds
India’s first ever gymnast to qualify for the Olympics began training at the age of six, undeterred by the flat feet she was born with.
Unlike in other parts of the world, gymnastics is an afterthought in India, a country more enamored by sports like cricket. As a result, it’s extremely difficult to raise money for expensive equipment or advanced training.
Karmakar’s road to Rio involved long years of training in a ramshackle gymnasium using makeshift equipment fashioned out of discarded scooter parts and crash mats. What’s more, Karmakar and her coach Bisweshwar Nandi also had to contend with India’s conservative social norms that frown upon a young girl spending so much time with a man, even if he is her trainer.
“There were so many ridiculous rumors but I knew that if Dipa produced the kind of results I knew she was capable of, that would silence everyone,” Nandi told Reuters in an interview.
It does look like the pair’s efforts are beginning to pay off. Karmakar’s execution of the Produnova earned her 14.850 points, guaranteeing that at the finals on Aug. 14, all eyes will be on her.
Here’s Karmakar’s inspiring career in photos.