Gymnastics – Before Rio Olympics 2016, it was hardly a known entity in India. Then came Dipa Karmakar, who impressed everyone with her exceptional performance in the Olympics. People praised her. Wrote about her on social media. And in less than a month, Indian Gymnastics players went back to being hardly a thing in India.
What we don’t know is the fact that before and even after Dipa, there are few others, who have made India proud on an international level. In fact, India had its first Gymnastics participation at the Olympic Games way back in 1952. Then again at 1956 and 1964 before we decided to go on a vacation for 52 years.
Now there are a lot of reasons behind India’s poor record in Gymnastics – The unawareness about the Sport being the major one. But the careless attitude of the governing body and lack of funds for the game are also a few important reasons.
But despite all the obstructions, a handful of Indians have worked really hard to achieve success in Gymnastics. And it would be a shame if we don’t acknowledge and celebrate their success just because this particular game is not popular enough.
So without further ado, here are best Indian Gymnastic Players of all time:
First in the list is, of course the blue-eyed Indian superstar Dipa Karmakar. But before we get to her Rio 2016 story, let us see how and where she started.
Dipa first grabbed the headlines in 2014, when she won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in women’s individual vault. She became the first Indian female gymnast to win a medal in history.
But more than a medal, it was Dipa’s performance that surprised the world. She executed the most difficult vault, Produnova vault, also known as the vault of death with a score of 15.1 (D-7, Ex- 8.1). She became only the 5th gymnast to pull of the Produnova vault. In the 2015 Asian Championship, Dipa won yet another bronze in Vault, yet another first for India.
Dipa became the first Indian female to qualify for the Olympics after her score of 14.833 in the Test Events. The girl from Tripura gave everything in Rio but just missed out on a bronze medal finishing fourth overall.
Dipa has since been awarded by Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and Padma Shri by the Government of India. And if her willpower is anything to go by, she will definitely make up for missing out on an Olympic medal in the next year’s Tokyo Games.
Aruna Reddy created history at the 2018 Gymnastics World Cup, by becoming the first Indian to win the medal in an individual event. She won the bronze medal in women’s individual vault event and that was the first time Indian National Anthem was ever played during the Gymnastics World Cup.
The 23-year old also participated in 2018 Commonwealth Games in both individual and team event but failed to repeat her World Championship heroics. Aruna has also performed at 2013, 2014 and 2017 World Championship before her eventual success in 2018.
Yes, Dipa Karmakar brought fame to Gymnastics in India. But the credit must go to Ashish Kumar as well, who won India’s first ever medal in Gymnastics at an international stage.
The Allahabad-born Kumar won not one but two medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. He first won the bronze medal in the floor exercise and followed it with a silver in men’s vault. His exceptional year continued with yet another bronze in the floor exercise at the 2010 Asian Games. Now a 29-year old veteran of the game has also won a bronze medal back in 2006 in Asian Championship.
And Ashish Kumar had to do it against all odds. After Ashish’s historic bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the Gymnastics Federation of India asked his coach, “Is this all that you can deliver, a bronze?” To which, the coach revealed how they had to struggle for basic needs for Ashish’s practice. “In August 2009, we had no equipment. Ashish trained on hard floor till February 2010, and then we got equipment around 20 years old.” said the coach, revealing the situation of Gymnastics in India.
Let us start with a few names which are difficult to find even on the internet but their work needs to be recognized.
Vir Singh and Khushi Ram were the first to represent India in the Olympics. Then 22-year old Singh and 36-year old Khushi were both from Gurdaspur in Punjab. Although they finished last in almost every event, it is worth remembering their names as the first ones on the biggest stage to represent India.
Anant Ram is the only gymnast to represent India at two different Olympic Games – At Melbourne in 1956 and Tokyo in 1964. And there is every chance that he will not be the only one to do so at the end of Tokyo 2020.
Meghana Gundlapally Reddy became the first Indian to perform in Rhythmic Gymnastics at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She is just 16-year old right now with a great future ahead of her.