Dipa Karmakar, the poster girl of Indian gymnastics, and Ashish Kumar, the first Indian gymnast to win medals at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, will lead the Indian challenge in this edition of the Asian Games.
The spotlight has always been on Karmakar ever since her heart-breaking fourth place finish at the Rio Olympics. The media glare has followed her during her injury, her comeback and now as she prepares for the Asian Games. She enjoys the adulation, being the most recognisable face of Indian gymnastics, but she also feels the pressure — carrying the hopes of the nation every time she prepares for her gravity-defying vault.
Her coach Bisweshwar Nandi, who guided Karmakar’s career from her humble beginnings in Agartala to become the Produnova Queen and then saw her through a serious knee injury, tries to lessen the weight of expectations. “Our first target is to reach the finals. Everyone expects her to land a medal but it is not going to be easy. She will have a stiff challenge as the Asian Games boasts of a world class field,’’ says Nandi.
In vault, which is Karmakar’s favourite event, the strongest medal contenders include China’s Liu Jinru and Wang Yan, Japan’s Sae Miyakama and the ageless Oksana Chusovitna of Uzbekistan. Liu won the vault gold medal in last year’s Asian Championship, making the 18-year-old the favourite in the Asian Games, while 43-year-old Chusovitna, who started her gymnastics career representing the erstwhile USSR, will be a dark horse.
Karmakar, on a comeback trail after going under the knife to treat her knee injury, will not perform the Produnova routine that made her the cynosure of world gymnastics. She will need to gain more strength on her knees to execute the vault known in the gymnastics circuit as the 'Vault of Death'. Even the difficulty points of Produnova routine has come down from 7 to 6.4. Points in gymnastics are awarded on basis of difficulty rating of a particular routine, which has been already rated by the international federation (D score), and its execution by a gymnast (E score). The sum total of the D and E score is final point earned by a gymnast.
After dumping Produnova, Karmakar performed Handspring 360 and Tsukuhara 720 with difficulty ratings of 5.4 and 5.6 on way to gold at the World Challenge Cup in Turkey. Coach Nandi is yet to reveal the routines she will perform at the Asian Games, though it is believed that she will once again depend on these two routines for a medal in the Asian Games.
Another promising gymnast from India, Aruna Reddy is also focussing on vault. The 22-year-old from Hyderabad bagged a bronze in the World Cup in Melbourne earlier this year and has shown remarkable improvement in the last few months. “She is back from a good training stint in Belgium under coach Andrei Levit. If she is able to execute her routines as planned, she can create an upset,’’ says her coach Manoj Rana. Aruna is working on perfecting the handspring straight 540 vault, which has a difficult rating of 5.8.
If Karmakar’s Rio heroics marked the coming of age of Indian gymnastics, it was the exploits of a young 18-year-old boy at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2010 that made the likes of Karmakar have the self belief that they can challenge the best in the world. Lack of basic equipment, dearth of coaches or international exposure proved no impediments as the youngster rode on his prodigious talent and sheer grit to become the first Indian gymnast to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games, finishing with a silver and bronze in floor exercise and vault. Ashish, however, was not over yet and the fairy tale continued.
Against a world-class field at the Guangzhou Asian Games, Ashish’s bronze medal in the floor exercises gave India its first Asian Games medal in gymnastics and the sport started to look up. But a spate of injuries halted his dream run. “I had shoulder and wrist injuries which took time to heal. I had lost crucial time during the recovery and my performance dipped. I did not have necessary support to help me bounce back. I was demotivated,’’ regrets Ashish.
But the 27-year-old is now focussing on vault and feels he is at the top of his game. “ I have a point to prove. I have to reply to my critics who feel Ashish Kumar is past his prime. And what will be a bigger stage than the Asian Games to make a comeback.’’ Ashish is looking to perform the Tsukuhara double pike (D score of 5.6) and Front Roche (D score 5.2) to garner a medal.
The other Indians in the fray in the men’s artistic gymnastics include Rakesh Patra, Yogeshwar Singh and Gaurav Kumar. Besides Karmakar and Reddy, the women team includes Pranati Das, Mandira Chowdhury and Pranati Nayak.
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Updated Date: Aug 17, 2018 20:40:01 IST