This year’s Mahindra Scoprio Times of India Sports Awards (TOISA) 2017 is proud to feature the world’s first perfect 10 gymnast, the legendary Nadia Comaneci as mentor and as the TOI’s guest editor for the days she talks about life, philosophy, Dipa Karmakar and of course sports.
You had the chance to meet and interact with Indian gymnast Dipa Karmakar. What was the interaction with her like?
The impact Dipa has made is big. It is amazing for the young generation of girls, and for parents who have girls. They watch Dipa and they see an opportunity that their kids can to do gymnastics as well. She is motivating and influencing a lot of young Indians. She has proved that you don’t have to be born in Romania or the US to make an impact here in gymnastics. She was really nice to talk to, and something interesting happened during our conversation. We were watching her Rio Olympics vault together and I was asked to make some comments on areas she needs to improve, and I said I like to hear from her on what she needs to improve on and she talked about the same things that I was thinking about. I told her that she has another vault to do (apart from Produnova) which she needs to improve and make it perfect so that judges cannot have deduction on that one. I feel her vault is 80-90 percent there, she just needs to work on the details, like how to put your feet while landing, and we talked about speed and all the gymnastics techniques that I still remember.
You started training at the age of six. It is difficult life. In hindsight you ever thought probably you wanted a more normal life? And you now train kids in your academy; do they train as hard as you did?
I didn’t want a normal life. I think no kids want a normal life. gymnastics in United States is defined and designed to be a sport for all kids. It is a good base for all kids and it doesn’t matter what they decide to do later. Kids want to play gymnastics; they want to be Simone Biles. They want to fly and gymnastics in the best place to go. If they want to choose to go further and want to be competitive and want to go to the Olympics they have to spend five-six hours. But they would not know that unless they have the opportunity to see what is going on and how far they can go. I wanted to do more hours because I wanted to win and I realised to be better I have to do more repetitions which means I had to stay longer in the gym. I was tough with myself, because I knew I could do this better. But it depends on the child, but don’t think that the kid is in the gym because he wants to go to the Olympics. In the US there are 4 million kids who do gymnastics and have 2,500 clubs and only four go to the Olympics. So if you want to do gymnastics only to go to the Olympics that is not a right reason. Just go do it. My good friend Carl Lewis was a gymnastics and he became a track and field legend. I meet a lot of people who have had a lot of success in sports and they are thankful that I teach gymnastics as a base.
As someone who at an early age you were so focused on what you wanted to achieve, what advice you will give a young kid when we talk about the mental strength – sure they have the physical attributes – but how important is to switch-off and focus?
Well that is the secret of the champion, how you do that. You have train for that. You have to understand why you are doing this, what brought to that. You have to always discover the love for what you are doing to be able to have to focus to do all those things. I was so drawn by what I was doing as a kid that I could not think that there was anything more important than going to the gym and train. My parents knew this was the most important thing for me, but my mom said that but if I don’t have good grades in school, that gym will be cut off so that forced me to be a good student as well.
So, in your case it wasn’t hard to make any sacrifices?
I don’t call it sacrifices. I call it choices. I don’t think you should see it as a sacrifice. It is an inner thing that makes you do that and you want to be better. So some kids have it, some don’t. Some have it for sports, some have it for something else. There are some kids who have so much desire to do and you can push that kid forward, but you can’t force someone who doesn’t want to do it.