The Pro­dunova ef­fect in Mum­bai

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

Mid Day - - HITLIST - DALREEN RAMOS dalreen.ramos@mid-day.com

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.

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.”

PICS/ATUL KAMBLE

(From left) Gym­nasts at Shree Sa­marth Vyayam Mandir in Shivaji Park, Dadar.

(From left) Bal­want Potekar, Suhas Lo­har, Uday Desh­pande and Har­ish Parab

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