CHENNAI: It’s not every day you see a six-year-old cartwheeling her way to a mat. Or a 20-something perform an athletic backflip and land with the grace of a panther. But with Dipa Karmakar, the first Indian woman qualifying for gymnastics at the Olympics in Rio, you’re more than likely to see more of this.
“The 22-year-old girl from Tripura is an inspiration to all,” says G Raja, a gymnastics trainer in the city, who is currently running a camp for kids at YMCA, Nandanam. “Thanks to her, gymnastics will get a much-needed boost.”
For women, there are four main types of gymnastics — floor, balancing beam, uneven bars and vault. Karmakar has qualified for the vault.
Gymnastics is one of the oldest sports, dating back to the ancient Greek civilisation. In fact, it is often called the mother of all sports. G Kannan, another trainer who has been teaching for 30 years, adds, “It keeps you fit and increases your stamina. Nowadays there are new variants, but they are like fast food. They’re for entertainment and time pass. The original is artistic gymnastics.”
According to Raja, a kid arrives like a ball without air. “If we condition and strengthen his core, it is like pumping air into the ball. He will later start bouncing,” he smiles.
And how they bounce! Rakesh, a five-year-old, effortlessly demonstrates a perfect back flip. What he learnt in five days take people months to perfect. “I have been learning gymnastics for a year, and I love it!” says the little one. Hemapriya, who is in Class 6, says she likes doing the handstand and the back walkover. “I practice for two hours every day,” she smiles. Many school kids have been learning the sport, in part, thanks to the fad of summer camps. For adults, it acts as a stress buster. “More than a competition, it’s the nice feel you get. After a stressful day, if you just do a few rolls, you can feel your stress rolling away,” says one of Kannan’s students.
“You put so much time into practicing and learning how to do a somersault or backflip that you don’t feel like giving it up once you’ve got it,” explains Saurav. The time one puts in is a key factor. According to Raja, three months is the optimal time to train a person before he even starts doing gymnastics.
“First, there are stretching and conditioning exercises; and after that, it depends on the sport. For instance, a bowler will have to develop his shoulder and triceps. A tennis player will have to have a strong forearm,” explains Raja. “But kids can do it much faster and more beautifully,” says Kannan, a fact that we find tough to dispute as we see them perform jaw-dropping moves over and over again.