Deepa Karmakar (Photo: Jasvinder Sehgal)

Deepa Karmakar (Photo: Jasvinder Sehgal)

Twenty-three year-old Deepa Karmakar is the first female gymnast from India to compete at the Olympics.

She is one of five gymnasts in the world who competes on the Produnova vault, also known as the ‘vault of death’ because of its level of difficulty.

At the recent Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Deepa narrowly missed out on a bronze medal by a slither of a point. 

Jasvinder Sehgal meets the upcoming star at her home in Agartala, in the northeastern state of Tripura.

This is the first time I have visited the small state of Tripura. 

And when I arrive, it seems Deepa Karmakar is already well known here. 

One local tuk tuk driver says the young gymnast has put Tripura on the map.

“She is a popular gymnast and I love her acrobatics,” he says, “She has given recognition to our tiny state!”

When I reach Deepa’s house, it is clear she has a lot of support.

Outside the exterior walls are lined with posters and billboards offering congratulations.

While inside, the sitting room is stacked full of trophies, medals and photographs of her achievements.

In person Deepa is humble and totally lacking in pretension. She is happy that Asia Calling has travelled so far to meet her.

“I live in a very small state and am surprised to see you in this tiny corner of the world,” says Deepa, “Thank you so much [for coming].”

Deepa first start practicing gymnastics at the age of 6. The first vault she practiced on was made using parts of an old scooter.

And her practice ground was a community marriage hall.

“At that time it was my gym, there were no facilities around in the whole state. In 2010 when I became the part of the Indian gymnastics contingent, the sports authority of India gave international level equipment to my gymnasium,” she explains.

After hours of intense training Deepa narrowly missed out on securing a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics this year. But she has no hard feelings. 

“At the time of the finals in Rio, I didn’t feel as bad as I was unaware of the difference in points,” she recalls, “All other participants were more talented than me. In fact Switzerland’s Giulia Steingrubber who took bronze is my role model. So when I stood next to her, I felt great.”

And Deepa remains hopeful that she has a chance in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Deepa is the youngest of two girls in her family.

Her father, Dulal Karmakar is a weight lifting coach, and had big dreams for Deepa from day one. 

“I have two daughters so on Deepa’s birth we decided that she should be a sports person. My sister was also a national swimming champion,” he explains, “Every father hopes for a bright and prosperous career for their daughter, like a doctor or engineer, but I decided sports for Deepa. Her physical stature was not like a weightlifter so I chose gymnastics for her. ”

Deepa has indeed lived up to expectations. 

And if being an Olympic star is not enough, Deepa is also pursuing postgraduate studies in political science at Tripura University. Gita Karmakar is Deepa’s mother.

She laughs when I ask her about whether Deepa plans to marry soon.

“No. No she is so young,” she says, “It’s my dream that Deepa will win a medal in the 2020 Olympics. India is waiting for her medal… It is my request to all parents, that they should allow their children to do whatever they wish to do.”

Deepa’s parents are feeling confident about their daughter’s career.

And even though she competes on the so-called ‘death vault’ Deepa is unafraid. 

“Death can come anywhere. There is a risk in every sport but practice makes you perfect,” she says, “It is risky I know. But to win something, I always knew I would have to take a risk.”

 

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