It was a historic as well as proud moment for every Indian when gymnast Pranati Nayak hit the headlines recently. Why? She became only the second-ever Indian gymnast to qualify for the upcoming Olympics. Though there were reports going around before it was announced officially. Complete chaos!
Things became clearer after the ninth Asian championships, which was scheduled to be held from May 29 to June 1 in Hangzhou, China was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This meant that the last event would be considered as Tokyo Olympics qualification and guess what Nayak hit the bull's eye. She has claimed the Asian quota for the upcoming Olympics.
Nayak had put up a stunning show at the 2019 Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships and had clinched a bronze medal in Vault. This display at Mongolia in 2019 came to her rescue as she is the only Indian gymnast who’ll be traveling to Tokyo. The gymnast from West Bengal follows in the footsteps of Dipa Karmakar, who was the first Indian women’s gymnast to compete in the Olympics in Rio 2016.
Coming from Jhargram, West Bengal, Nayak comes from a humble background. Her father was a state transport bus driver until 2017. This did not stop her to dream. Amidst all of this financial crisis, she took the sport seriously in 2004 when she moved to Kolkata. Hilariously, when she a 7-year-old, she thought it was Yoga she was practicing but soon the misconception changed. Given her interest to climb trees and jump into ponds as a child, she too took to gymnastics like a duck takes to water.
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Later, she found an god-like coach who supported her despite having a poor financial background. She took care of everything, from her stay, to food, to pocket money and all her other miscellaneous expenses. "My parents couldn’t have afforded my sports career, Minara ma’am took care of my stay, food, other expenses and pocket money when I saw that’s what teenagers got,” Nayak had said back then.
Nayak's growth in the sport led her in getting a job in Indian Railways and get included in the Indian teams for international tournaments. She even defeated her idol Dipa Karmakar at the 2018 Asian Games, finishing eighth while Karmakar could not even qualify for the final.
Her biggest achievement came at the 2019 Asian Gymnastics Championships in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in the vault event, when she earned a bronze medal. She had secured the third spot after two clean landings which helped her score 13.384. It also helped her become only the third Indian gymnast behind her idol Karmakar (2014 Commonwealth Games) and Aruna Reddy (2018 World Cup gymnastics) to earn a major vaulting medal for India.
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However, she was disappointed as she failed to secure the qualification score for the Tokyo Olympics in spite of scoring 14.20 in the same vault event! In total, Pranati had missed the Olympics qualification score by only two points! The disappointment could have been lessened but lockdown ensured most events were canceled in 2020. Nayak had chalked out the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games as her next major events but fate had something else written for her.
Nevertheless, in a blessing in disguise, her bronze medal in Mongolia not only brought her national recognition, but the same bronze medal has also paved her way to the Tokyo Olympics almost two years later. She is expected to, however, resume training at Kolkata once her berth for Tokyo 2020 is officially confirmed.