Dipa makes history, finishes fourth in vault finals

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Dipa Karmakar wrote a new chapter in Indian gymnastics, turning in her - and India's - best performance at an international event, by finishing fourth in the vault in the individual apparatus final at the Rio Olympics.

Commonwealth Games bronze medallist in 2014 and fifth-placed in the world championships last year, Dipa finished behind the three medal winners: Olympics' all-round individual champion Simone Biles of the USA (15.966), Maria Paseka of Russia (15.253), and Giulia Steinbruger of Switzerland (15.216).

Dipa who was the eighth and last gymnast to come through qualifying into the vault final, produced an assured and composed performance in her two signature vaults, scoring 15.066, her best scores of the competition so far.

"I will definitely go for a medal in 2020. I am very happy with my first Olympics," a relaxed and smiling Dipa said after the event. "The other three were better than me. I enjoyed myself and did both my vaults as well as I could."

Gymansts perform two vaults in the final, to display their expertise over different approaches and landings, and Dipa is best known around the world for her controlled execution of the controversial and often criticised Produnova vault. Her choice is to usually go for the Produnova (front handspring double somersault) first, with its highest D-(for difficulty) score of 7 in the women's vault and follow it up with the Zamolodchikova (a stretched double twist from the Tsukahara family of vaults) with a D-score of 6.

As the sixth of eight gymnasts who competed in the Olympic final on Sunday, Dipa knew the score she had to beat in order to win a medal, and came very close.

Swiss Guilia Steinbruger's 15.216 was the target and in order to do so, Dipa was to switch the sequence of her vaults. She first produced a clean Tsukahara 720, with a tiny side step at the landing, which earned her a total of 14.866 on her first vault, an improvement on the 14.600 she had scored in the qualifying competition.

The Produnova was her final vault in Rio and again, she was to do better with it than she had in the qualifiers. Last week, a two-step stumble on landing had left Dipa visibly annoyed, as she won an execution score of 8.100 in the qualifiers.
On Sunday, Dipa landed feet first in a low squat. She touched the mat with her body, but stayed in position on landing and earned herself 8.266 for execution, with a total of 15.266. It left her with a total score of 15.066, just 0.15 points behind Steinbruger.

After the event, Dipa's performance drew praise from Biles herself: "The vault she does is amazing and I will never try those vaults. It's crazy but it's amazing how she pulled it off. She has improved a lot. I remember I was impressed the first time I saw her. Her progress over the years is absolutely amazing."

Unlike in the qualifiers, Dipa was not the only gymnast to successfully execute the Produnova in the final; Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, 41 and in her seventh Olympics, is one of the four women who has successfully completed the Produnova, after Elena Produnova's perfect execution in 1999. Chusovitina was to attempt it as her first vault on Sunday and her landing was to show the vault's latent danger. After her double somersault, Chusovitina toppled forward on hitting the ground, at one point her head dangerously close to getting jammed against the landing mat. As a trained gymnast, she was able to rolled out of trouble and scored 14.933 for her effort (7 for difficulty and 7.933 for execution). She was to finish seventh over all with a total score of 14.833.

To anyone who had somehow become accustomed to watching Dipa pull off her signature vault regularly in international competitions, Chusovitina's stumble was a reminder of the narrow margin between athletic success and a grievous accident in the Produnova.

At the end of what was a rather miserable Sunday for the India's Olympic contingent in Rio, Dipa's performance broke through the gloom. At this Olympics, her vaulting was confident and fearless and proved to the world that at the highest level of her sport, Dipa Karmakar belongs.