Outside the Olympic Arena in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Park, four ambulances were parked in a line. Engines idling, drivers belted and in their seats. Thick orange power cables ran from them to high-voltage sockets in the wall. Painted in white and the Rio Games colours, the ambulances were ready to rumble out in an instant. No other indoor sporting event had this level of medical preparedness.
Inside the arena, Indian sporting history was being written. Dipa Karmakar, the wee lass from Agartala, had become the country’s first female gymnastic entry in the Olympics. And, when her name was called out, the English and Portuguese announcers highlighted this fact. The crowd then rose to its feet, thundering its approval. The tricolours in the stands came out, and many looked up at the roof of the cavernous arena, where the participating countries’ flags hung. And, there it was. There it was!
Though she made it barely into the finals of the vault, Dipa finished a commendable fourth. And, India had a P.T. Usha moment all over again. Gymnasts perform two vaults from two different vault families, and each vault must have a different entry. Dipa’s first vault got her 14.866 points, and her celebrated Produnova got her 15.266. She stood second after her two vaults, but Russia and USA were the last to go. And, they pushed her out of the top three.
Simone Biles of the US won the gold with a score of 15.966, and the silver went to Russia’s Maria Paseka with 15.253. The bronze was claimed by Switzerland’s Giulia Steingruber with 15.216. For Dipa, the gap between cup and lip was 0.150 points.
Paseka came into the Games with a painful back injury, but her past record is nothing to scoff at. Steingruber too, has won many a medal in the past season. She bore Switzerland’s flag in the opening ceremony at the Maracana. And, Biles. Well, this has been her Olympics, has it not? Three golds—vault, women’s team all-around and the coveted women’s individual all-around.
Dipa and her coach Bishweshwar Nandi should be commended for their grace. There were no tears. Only smiles. Nandi went over to shake Biles’s hand. And, then walked to her coach, Aimee Boorman, and shook her hand, too, before walking out.
As we walked out into the sunny quadrangle, the ambulances were still there. But the engines were off, and the drivers were gone.