Injuries dent India’s gymnastics medal hopes at Tokyo


New Delhi: India’s chances of sending a gymnast to the Tokyo Olympics, starting July 24, is all but over, with top athlete Dipa Karmakar yet to recover from her injuries as the Olympic qualification process heads towards its conclusion. Karmakar, 26, aggravated her k nee injury in March last year at the Baku World Cup.

“Dipa hasn’t started training. She is going through rehabilitation,” said her long time coach Bishweshwar Nandi from Agartala, Tripura.

No Indian gymnast will compete at the world cup series starting February 20 at Melbourne. The world cup series comprises four tournaments—the last one is in March in Germany—the best performers from which will get a spot at the 2020 Games.

Mumbai-based international gymnastics judge Deepak Kabra, who has been closely following Karmakar as an official on the global circuit, said that her chances of regaining top form in time to make a dent in the world cup series is slim.

“It might take six months or more to recover from that knee injury,” Kabra said. “The last time Karmakar had rushed back and it aggravated again. This time she is taking baby steps to recover.”

Four years ago, at the Rio Olympics, Karmakar burst into the limelight with an almost improbably gutsy performance that saw her finish fourth in the vault, and made her an overnight global star in the sport. She was the first Indian female gymnast to compete at the Olympics, and the first gymnast from India in 52 years—irrespective of gender—to compete at that stage.

In 2017, Karmakar injured her knee for the first time, went through a surgery, and was out for the rest of the season. She made a sensational comeback in 2018—when she became the first Indian gymnast to win gold at a world event—before the knee injury hit her again.

Coach Nandi refused to comment on Karmakar’s plans for the immediate future, but he has not entered her name for the second event of the world cup series either, to be held in Doha in March.

Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) general secretary Shantikumar Singh confirmed that no participation requests have come for the Doha World Cup. Neither is there a plan ready for the final qualification chance—the Gymnastics Asian Championships starting May 2 in Tokyo. Only the all-round gold and silver medal winners in both men’s and women’s categories will qualify for the Olympics from the Asian meet.

“We have the senior national championships in the last week of March in Hyderabad. Thereafter we will take a call whether to send a team to the Asian Championships,” Singh said.

It’s not just Karmakar; India’s brightest new gymnast, 24-year-old Aruna Reddy too will not be at the Olympics. The gymnast from Hyderabad, who is the only Indian apart from Karmakar with a world cup medal, has confirmed that she is out of the race, also with a knee injury for which she had a surgery three months back.

“I have no plans to rush back to competition as I’m going through rehab,” Reddy said.

Beyond the injuries, there is also the story of the failure of the authorities to build the profile of gymnastics following Karmakar’s 2016 Rio performance. In fact, the sport’s status went from bad to worse. Because of infighting among various groups, gymnastics did not have a federation in India for four years. In November, the GFI finally conducted elections, supervised by the world body, but the federation is yet to get the sports ministry’s recognition.

“Gymnasts have potential but there is no system in place,” said Manoj Rana, who is Reddy’s coach. “If GFI is keen to send a team for Asian Championships in May, the camp should start now. But it’s not happening.”

Rana said that the lack of a federation for so many years had a major impact on performances.

“Players were unsure whether they would compete in the international meets or not. It put immense pressure on the mind and affected performance,” he said.