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Karmakar blazes the Olympic trail for Indian gymnastics


The first female gymnast from her country evemost popular chess openingsr to qualify for the Olympic Games, India’s Dipa Karmakar picks out her main rivals in the vault at Rio 2016.Dipa Karmakar achieved historyin April when she became the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for theOlympics and the first gymnast of either sex from her country to grace the Gamessince Tokyo 1964.
Appearing the final FIG qualifiers at the RioOlympic Arena, a competition that also featured on the AqueceRio programme as a test event for the 2016 Games, Karmakar successfullycompleted the Produnova. A hand-spring double front vaultnamed after the Russian gymnast Yelena Produnova, it is one of thehardest vaults in the discipline and carries a difficulty rating of 7.0.Getty Images
As the 22-year-old from the small state of Tripurain northeastern India said: “Only five women in the world have ever landed it,and I am one of them.”
It was a vault that earned her a score of 15.600,the highest of the 14 gymnasts taking part in the test event. Though she failedto match that performance in the uneven bars, the balance beam and the floorexercise, a berth at Rio 2016 was safely hers, along with a prominent place inthe history of Indian artistic gymnastics.
“Half the people in India don’t even know whereTripura is,” she said. “The gym where I started didn’t have proper equipment.It didn’t even have a vaulting table, so we would put mats on top of each otherand make do with that. The gym would flood in the monsoon season. So it wasquite a struggle to start with.”.embed-container { position: relative; margin-bottom: 3em; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; }
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After I got the 2014 bronze medal, my life changed. People have made me a celebrity. Wherever I go they ask for a picture and an autograph with me. People treat me like a Bollywood star. Dipa Karmakar
India

Star treatment
Overcoming those obstacles, Karmakar reachedthe international stage and qualified for the 2014 Commonwealth Games inGlasgow, where she landed a Produnova in her favourite event to win a landmarkbronze medal, the first medal of any colour won by a female Indian gymnast inthe history of the competition.
Another first for Indian women’s gymnasticscame at the 2015 Asianwindows chess Championships, where she pocketed another bronze, andlater the same year she placed fifth in the vault final at the FIG WorldChampionships in Glasgow.
“After I got the 2014 bronze medal, my lifechanged,” she explained. “People have made me a celebrity. Wherever I go theyask for a picture and an autograph with me. People treat me like a Bollywoodstar.”
“Since I’ve become a celebrity in Tripura, Ifeel that I have to give more to my people. They have given me so much love, Ifeel the need to pay them back. Maybe competing for an Olympic medal would beit, so that they never forget that there was a girl called Dipa Karmakar, whogave them something that perhaps no one else could have given them.”
The challengers for gold inRio
Karmakar will have the chance to do just that on14 August, when the Olympic apparatus finals take place. Looking ahead to thevault final, Karmakar picked out the favourites for gold in the competition,chief among them Russia’s Maris Paseka, the 2015 world and European vaultchampion: “She won the bronze medal in the last Olympics. Her vault isvery good. It’s very clean. It’s so clean I think it’s even cleaner now.”
“The North Korean athlete Hong Hun-Jong won thesilver medal at the last world championships. She has so much experience on thevault that she’s cut down the amount she practices. But she still performsreally well in competitions.”
In winning gold at Beijing 2008, Hun-Jong becamethe first woman from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to climb onto anOlympic podium in her sport. She went on to collect world championship gold in Nanning(CHN) in 2014..embed-container { position: relative; margin-bottom: 3em; padding-bottom: 56.25%; heightmetal chess pieces: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; }
.embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }Karmakar also picked out Oksana Chusovitina asa contender for gold. A winner of team all-around gold with the Unified Team atBarcelona 1992, Chusovitina, who turned 41 in June, is set to becomethe oldest gymnast to ever compete at the Games and the only gymnast to makeseven consecutive Olympic appearances.
“This will be her seventh Olympics,” saysKarmakar. “She won silver at Beijing 2008. She has recently started attempting theProdunova vault. She represented Germany for many years, but in the upcomingOlympics she’ll be competing for Uzbekistan. I don’t think there’s anyone elsein the sport that has the qualities he has, and she’s a mother too.”
Also contending for gold in Rio will be theUSA&chessmasterrsquo;s Simone Biles, the reigning three-time individual all-around worldchampion, and 4 person chessthe 16-year-old British gymnast Elissa Downie, who landed silverin the vault at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympichess openingsc Games, bronze at the 2015 Worldsand silver at this year’s European Championships.
In what promises to be an exciting and keenlycontested competition, the trailblazing Karmakar will be hoping to upstage herrivals and give her 1.3 billion compatriots another unique achievement tocelebrate. Getty Images

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