Dipa Karmakar effect: This gymnastic institute trains city's youngsters
Two years after a dream run at the Rio Olympics, Dipa Karmakar clinched gold at the Gymnastics World Cup in Turkey. For a feat that seemed unattainable until recently, we look at the sport in the city, and gymnasts who aspire to be her
Imagine this. You run up to a table that’s slightly inclined, a little over four feet tall. Using it, you attempt to toss yourself over into the air. But it doesn’t end there. You then rotate head over heels. Twice. And then when you’re left with no more imagination to spare, you need to land back on your feet. For Dipa Karmakar, this “vault of death” or the Produnova was her ticket to the 2016 Olympics, making her the fifth person in history to land the move. Terrifying as it may seem to many, the atmosphere on a rainy evening at Prabodhankar Thackeray Krida Sankul (PTKS) in Vile Parle — where several young gymnasts in the city train — says otherwise.
The institute is the only venue in Mumbai to have imported, International Gymnastics Federation-certified apparatus. Which is why it isn’t hard to see young, dedicated gymnasts who travel from across the city to train here. We speak to gymnastics head coach, Harish Parab, who explains that achieving facilities to match international standards comes at a premium. “It takes close to 2 crores for a full set-up. With no government institute in Mumbai, all private institutions need to take care of their own funding. So, many clubs in the city resort to opting for apparatus that is made in India,” he says.
Parab also mentions that even though many schools make gymnastics compulsory, children do not receive adequate training. “Each year, students who have previously undergone gymnastics training in school take admission here. What we noticed is that they receive training on a single apparatus. So parents need to be cautioned while paying full fees for gymnastics,” he adds. Vandita Raval, gymnast and coach of the women’s team at the institute, concurs. “As we graduate to coaching after being gymnasts ourselves, we have a fair idea of the movement involved in the game. We are then capable of physically assisting the student.”
The closest government training centre to Mumbai remains Balewadi, Pune. Parab feels poor facilities are hampering the game as government grants aren’t easy to come by. The sport also requires dedicated space — a minimum of 10,000 sq ft, he says.
There is a shortage of good coaches too, and being a former gymnast is not a requirement. For Uday Deshpande, director and chief coach at Shree Samarth Vyayam Mandir (SSVM), Shivaji Park, inexperienced coaches can harm a young gymnast’s career. “Look at Karmakar’s coach — Bisweshwar Nandi was one of India’s greatest gymnasts. A coach also requires the physical strength of the gymnast. You either need to be one or must receive training in that specific skill-set,” he explains.
Both SSVM and PBKS offer concessions to students who require them. “We also waive fees off in special cases. Not everybody is privileged but we wouldn’t deprive anyone of the privilege to be a gymnast,” Parab adds. SSVM, run by a charitable trust, charges only '30 as a monthly fee. Deshpande credits their smooth functioning to the dedicated coaches who work for free. The last thing a sportsperson needs are troubles outside the arena, says 17-year-old gymnast Mrunmayee Joshi. “It is hard dealing with the education system anyway; a higher fee would mean additional pressure,” she adds.
Balwant Potekar, Suhas Lohar, Uday Deshpande and Harish Parab
To reach world standards, coaches say, at least 10 years of training is required. Balwant Potekar, head coach at Goregaon Sports Club, recommends that parents send their children for training at the earliest. “Gymnastics involves training in strength, flexibility and memory. Classes for toddlers start with a basic training in these three,” he says. Aditi Gandhi, who started training when she was five, also vouches for the greater adaptability. “The transition is smoother as the game gets more demanding when you grow older. Starting early helps because you have to retire early,” she says.
With Karmakar making headlines, institutes have observed a surge in admissions. Suhar Lohar, head coach at the Andheri Sports Complex, hopes it will draw attention to solving real issues and encourage parents to let their children try the sport. “Gymnastics is the only sport that tests not just concentration, but also agility and stamina among other things. It really is the mother of all games.”
Where to learn gymnastics?
Shree Samarth Vyayam Mandir
Minimum Age: 5 years
At: Shivaji Park, Dadar West.
COST: R30 per month
Minimum Age: 4 years
AT: Vile Parle East.
COST: R24,000 per year
Shahaji Raje Krida Sankul
Minimum age: 4 years
AT: Veera Desai Road, Andheri West.
COST: R1,600 for three months
Goregaon Sports Club
Minimum age: 2 years
AT: Link Road, Malad West.
COST: R1,000 per month;
R1,500 per month for kids
below five years
The Karmakar effect
Mrunmayee Joshi, 17
“Having competed alongside Dipa in this year’s Asian Games trials, I cay say that I have always felt inspired when she is around. She has that vibe about her, that she is here to win.”
Aditi Gandhi, 22
“Before Dipa’s success, not much was said about gymnastics. As the only gymnast to become an Olympian, she is a youth role model. She gives us the motivation that we too can reach that feat.”
Vandita Raval, 29
“Dipa hasn’t just made a name for herself, she has made a name for
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