Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cartwheels in.....


With colonisation, of course came British cultural influence, and with British cultural influence came British sports. Artistic Gymnastics has existed in India as long as the British have, though other, older forms of a similar sport have existed for much, much longer. The sport is, like in many other developing countries, afflicted with a lack of good coaches, training technique and equipment, and most of all, a lack of exposure to other gymnasts from around the world. India has a national Gymnastics team which comprises, for some reason, of many gymnasts from the Bengal region of India. The very first Indian National Championships were competed in 1952, the same year the gymnastics federation was established. Women did not compete until 1966.

The Gymnastics federation of India quite poetically espouses the sport, telling us that
"Gymnastics is a symphony of music, some of us would say- Undoubtedly it is an art. At the same time, the gymnast also reminds a scientist who, before resolving some problem, weighs its conditions over and over. The run up and the flight, which is like the flight of man's through, and a dazzling flash of unravelling of one of nature's secrets, the secret of the possibilities of a humans body. Gymnastics is the highest mathematics of movement.

Even Mahatma Gandhi did gymnastics. He was not a fan, though. He wrote in his autobiography Story of my Experiment with Truth that he disliked the fact that it was made compulsory by his schoolmaster. This was the reason he claimed to hate it, and also because when he tried to become exempt from practising it in order to nurse his sick father he was accused of lying!

India competed a women's team at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Game, coming tenth of the ten teams. No woman made into the top 24 for the All-around final, though three women competed on four events in the team competition. The highest all-around qualifier was Jhunuk Basu, who came 31st of 53 gymnasts. Her highest scoring event was vault with a 12.900 and her lowest, uneven bars with an 8.4. None made it into apparatus finals either. The National team also competed in Tianjin and Anaheim

There are some major gymnastics competition within India. 2004 saw a reprisal of a major regional gymnastics competition in India, which saw 1590 gymnasts from all over the southern regions of the country come together to compete. A 2002 competition pitting the girls of the West Bengal area against each other had two gymnasts who would eventually be on the 2006 Commonwealth Games team. An article about the competition stated, however, that the competition was difficult for the girls because of uneven matting and a lack of international standard equipment. This was cited as the reason for many girls not "going all-out" in competition, for fear of a serious injury.

One of the gymnasts competing for Bengal in this meet was Tumpa Debnath, one of India's most successful and tenacious gymnasts over the last decade. She managed to win a National title despite landing hyperextended on vault, damaging her knee and causing her to cry and perform bandaged for the rest of the all-around competition at the tender age of fifteen over several of India's best gymnasts. She won that National title several times and even competed for India in China and Belgium in her career. She told a newspaper, though, that the idea of winning any kind of medal in Anaheim was tantamount to something even bigger than daydreaming.

The U.S.A teams have, over the year been lucky enough to have some major contributors to gymnastics from the Indian diaspora in the country.
Raj Bhavsar's parent's come from Gujarat, India. His father arrived in 1968 after gaining a university degree back home to work in the states. After being named an alternate for both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, he was lucky enough to be able to compete in Beijing after the withdrawal of both Hamm brothers. He believes his success come partly from his father teaching him the right balance between American and Indian values and had pledged to aid the Indian gymnastics community as much as he can.

Mohini Bhardwaj, the first American of Indian descent to win an Olympic medal was one of the mainstays, and one of the nicest surprises in the naming of the 2004 women's Athens team. Despite being selected as a specialist, injuries to other team mates saw her opening on every apparatus, and with her steady, steady performances, securing solid starting scores for the girls who followed. Mohini (name meaning illusion) was raised by a Russian mother and an Indian father and grew up in a Hindu, vegetarian household. She also has a phenomenally successful college career, earning twenty-three individual titles.She was named the India Abroad person for 2004.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your excellent posts about gymnastics in countries not well-known for their gymnastics. It's so interesting, especially the Indian gymnastics with Mohini and Raj competing for the U.S. (and doing wonderfully!). I really enjoy your blog overall..thanks!!