For the India slot, gymnast Shraddha Talekar thanks her uncle and his homemade carpet


Shraddha Talekar remembers a long vacation in the “city” with his maternal uncle in Thane. It was during one of these trips that Uncle Vishwas Gophan took her to a summer gymnastics camp. Eighteen years later, the 27-year-old from the rain-drenched village of Pedali in Maharashtra’s coastal Raigad district joined the Indian team for next month’s artistic gymnastics world championship in Japan.

And, for her first chance to compete among the best, she thanks her supportive ‘mum’ (uncle) – and the special equipment he has put in place to get her out of the pandemic in the remote region of Pedali.

During the lockdown, Talekar wondered if these were curtains on his career, having narrowly missed the Indian team six times with scores as low as 0.5 points in the trials since 2013. It’s It was around this time that Gophan, who is an environmental activist and has been giving out free cloth bags for years, made a landing mat out of rags, stage curtains, and wrecked flags.

Shraddha Talekar trains on locally made gymnastics equipment at his home in Pedali village

“The stadium where I train had hosted a Marathi Natya Sammelan some time ago, so there were soft silk flags, unused hanging stage curtains. He gathered them all and stuffed them with several layers of rags and old cushions to sew a makeshift landing mat for practice, ”says Talekar.

In March 2020, when the lockdown was announced, Talekar feared that his dream of competing at the highest level might not be coming true. “I had missed a shot earlier and was very discouraged. I was 26 and could see my whole career ending with the cancellation of competitions, but my family pushed me to stay on track, ”she says.

WATCH: Shraddha Talekar on his uneven bars routine

Growing up in the countryside of Raigad, gymnastics wouldn’t have happened without the summer camp. She started late at the age of nine and, although blessed with a natural agility, medals in the junior category, where most elite gymnasts consolidate their career decisions, were not up for grabs. horizon. “My first competition in the National High School Championships was on open ground in Hubli, West Bengal. It was the best show of my life, to see so many gymnasts compete even though I didn’t win a medal, ”she says.

The facilities were primitive, but for Talekar it was nothing short of a “once in a lifetime visit to Disneyland,” she jokes. His first success came in 2011 with the state team gold medal at the 12th National Games.

Trained at a public athletic school, where movements on apparatus were broken down into weekly goals, Talekar won national gold on uneven bars in 2018. “I had seen so many gymnasts leave the sport and get married or start jobs. Office. The anxiety of never being part of an international team affected my performance in competition and sometimes cost me the selection. I would come home often, half-expecting someone to tell me “enough is enough.” But my parents surprised me by telling me to realize my dream of going to the World Championships first, and not worry about marriage, ”she says.

Makeshift landing mat made of rags and thrown aside flags and curtains.

Talekar grew up in a common family with his housewife mother and father, who worked in a rice mill in the village. “My mum (uncle) was a karate player so he told my mum my ambition had to be the world championship or all those years were a mess. My brother is a hiker and free spirited so he supported me. Moreover, after Dipa Karmakar (Commonwealth medalist and first Indian gymnast to participate in the Olympics), everything has changed in India and our vision of gymnastics, ”she says.

But to make a Karmakar, Talekar had to be in great shape. For a long time she had ankle problems. In addition, the strap of his big toe had a ping-pong-sized gap, the result of repeated stress on the feet and dislocation. She used the lock to strengthen her legs and lug around homemade gear – baby bars, a makeshift foam mat, and a locally carved wooden balance beam for pear trees.

Storytelling training on baby bars and carved wooden beams.

Meditation-supported visualization and in-depth strength training also helped ease the transition to a real device once the gyms reopened. In practice at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Delhi, her double pike out on the bars “looked transparent” and it showed in the points – 44.25 to move up to third place overall.

Although the two Olympic gymnasts, Karmakar and Pranati Nayak, are incapacitated due to injuries and rehabilitation, Talekar believes that she is on top of her own game. “It’s about staying motivated despite age and to learn from younger gymnasts as well. I really admire Olympic uneven bars champion Nina Derwael who won gold in Tokyo. She is 21 and on her own has coached Belgium in the team final, and her skills are breathtaking, ”she said.

Even though she feeds her disappointments at having missed all these years, Talekar finds calm in studies and is on the verge of obtaining her fourth degree, including a master’s degree in economics in addition to a master’s degree in physical education. “But this is the world championship where I want to give my all. It is said that gymnastics is reserved for young people. But I have never felt so ready to succeed, ”she says.

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